Saturday, January 20, 2018

Canadian Railroad Workers Acquitted in Lac-Mégantic Crash

                                                               Press Release

Friday, January 19th, 2019 at 2:40 PM Central Time

For Immediate Release

For more information Contact: Ron Kaminkow, RWU General Secretary
phone:608-358-5771 or 202-798-3327

RWU Statement Upon the Acquittal of Canadian Railroad Workers

Railroad workers – together with all citizens concerned with worker justice - across the continent are celebrating the acquittal of Canadian railroaders who were wrongly accused by the Crown for the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic in which 47 people were killed when a long and heavy oil train crashed and exploded in the middle of that small town in July of 2013.

At the time of the wreck, Railroad Workers United (RWU) had spoken out quickly, releasing a statement within a week condemning the reckless practices on the rail carrier – the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) - and its renegade CEO Ed Burkhart. Since then, RWU has defended the railroad workers, denying that they in any way should be charged with a criminal offense, demanding that the charges be dropped, and that the Crown charge the real criminals – the MM&A bosses and the government regulators who had turned a blind eye to their irresponsible actions regarding safety.

Once the workers were arrested, RWU took part in protest actions, assisted with organizing a defense committee, began raising funds for the defense, and attempted to raise awareness of the issue on both sides of the border. Despite the overwhelming evidence of company recklessness and irresponsibility, the Crown refused to drop the charges, and proceeded onward to the trial which finally commenced – more than four years after the event – in September 2017.

While the prosecution focused largely on a single event – the alleged failure of the locomotive engineer to tie enough handbrakes, they were tripped up at every turn by their own witnesses – government, company, “expert” and otherwise – who, by their testimony, incriminated the company and the government regulators rather than the defendants.

Some of the highlights that were revealed at the trial include:

1 – The implementation of single employee train crews just months earlier, had played a key role in the wreck. One other railroad that had been operating trains in this fashion for years (QNSL) had provided 10 days of training and made 69 safety accommodations prior to the implementation of such operations. The MM&A did none of these, while the government stood idly by. After the wreck however, Transport Canada outlawed the further implementation of the practice.

2 – The MM&A had allocated practically no funding for safety or emergency training, nor standardization of rules compliance, and had a terrible safety record compared to most rail carriers.

3 – The train in question was thousands of tons over limit. Significantly, the company had no set policy for the number of handbrakes that were necessary to secure such trains. That number remains in question, but experts now agree that the number for such a train on such a grade is well more than had been considered at the time.

4 – The train – by company policy - was left unattended on the mainline on a steep grade with no derail or other means of protection against runaway.

5 – The train’s lead locomotive was defective, and ultimately this fact would catalyze the runaway. Despite awareness of this fact, the company had failed to make necessary repairs to it, nor utilize it as a trailing unit in the consist. In addition, the mainline trackage was in a dilapidated state because of deferred maintenance by the carrier.

6 – Company policy was to leave the train’s automatic brake in the release position, even though the generally accepted practice by railroad policy and law is to leave unattended trains with the automatic brake in the “full-service” (fully applied) position. Every car of the train could have had its air brakes fully applied, but the company – against general rule and wisdom of a hundred years - insisted that engineers not set the air brakes on the train when leaving the train alone. Had this reckless and bizarre policy not been insisted upon by MM&A, the train almost certainly could not have rolled away.

All told over the course of four months, the jury gained a picture of a railroad company that was oblivious to safety concerns, one far more interested in making money than in the safety of its workers or trackside communities. While RWU applauds the jury’s verdict and sees the acquittal as a victory – not just for the MM&A railroad workers but for all railroad workers – we must remain vigilant. Railroad carriers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are intent on criminalizing employees, pointing the finger at them when something goes wrong, as a means of deflecting attention away from their own failures, whether it be inadequate training, lack of qualifying time, chronic crew fatigue, deferred maintenance, dangerously long and heavy trains, inadequate staffing and more. Railroad workers must be ready, willing and able to come to one another’s defense to prevent the rail carriers and the state from criminalizing our behavior while they – the real criminals – get off Scott free.

Railroad Workers United
Solidarity -- Unity -- Democracy

Friday, January 19, 2018

Iran: Haft Tappeh Workers Threaten Occupation

On Monday January 15th Esmail Bakhshi, a representative of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane complex’s workers, made a speech announcing the continuation of their strike until management have met their demands. He warned management that if their demands have not been met by Friday then they will occupy the sugar cane complex on Saturday.

Over 500 day-labourers at Haft Tappeh, a sugar cane complex with plantations and refineries in Khuzestan province, are demanding the payment of unpaid wages and permanent contracts. They also object to a retired manager being brought back to the company.

The following is the transcript of parts of Esmail Bakhshi’s speech, distributed by the Haft Tappeh workers as a video clip. The full video clip is 11 minutes long.

“What we want to say today is different from before. Today we are saying something different. If by the end of this week [Friday, January 19th], listen up, if by the end of this week our demands and the situation of our contracts have not been dealt with, then we give up our demands. We will take Haft Tappeh back. [The workers cheer.]

“Today, today we have come to say that you can’t manage Haft Tappeh anymore, we no longer have any confidence in your lies. If by the end of this week the situation, the situation of the demands and contracts, has not been dealt with, then we will sit in the management ourselves and we will build up Haft Tappeh ourselves, we will manage it ourselves. [The workers cheer.]

“They claim that they don’t have any money. Neither have we! But we differ from them in that we have the expertise to produce sugar, so we’ll manage it ourselves. We’ll sit there and manage until we find proper sugar cane managers who can come here and manage. The first thing that we’ll do in Haft Tappeh, in line with managing Haft Tappeh ourselves, that we will be responsible for, will be uprooting from Haft Tappeh the generation of fake and illiterate managers who have dragged Haft

Tappeh to this state – and are from Haft Tappeh themselves.  [The workers cheer.]

“The illiterate managers who have dragged Haft Tappeh to this state, have no place in Haft Tappeh anymore. These gentlemen can’t produce.”

Mr Bakhshi then talks about the managers preparing to sell off the land of Haft Tappeh. “In 1386 [2007-08] all the land deeds for Haft Tappeh were taken from here. … They can’t produce. They want to sell your land. Haft Tappeh is not theirs. … Haft Tappeh is the inheritance of our forefathers. …”

Esmail Bakhshi also talks about the legal and other authorities always taking the side of management and the company’s owners. “The Labour Law is not a labour law. It has an attractive appearance. …It is a slavery law. This Labour Law was not written by the workers. The workers of Iran did not pass this Labour Law in the Majles. The workers have not expressed their opinion about the Labour Law.”

Mr Bakhshi also says that management “… pay the wages once every four months. Then tell us to be grateful that we have a job! … You were unemployed, we gave you a job. …”

Mr Bakhshi finishes his speech warning that the workers will not stand for a retired manager being brought back and says the strike will continue, and if their demands have not been met by Friday, then they will take over the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane complex on Saturday.

Translation: Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign.
Source: Haft Tappeh workers.

Statement by the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers’ Union
Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers’ Strike: Thirty Workers Locked Out
Haft Tappeh Pensioners End Their Protests
Retired Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers Protest

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Carillion and the ‘dead end’ of privatisation

by Michael Roberts

A few weeks ago, Martin Wolf, Keynesian economics journalist for the UK’s Financial Times, wrote a piece arguing that the renationalisation of privatised state companies was a ‘dead end’ and would not solve the failures of privately owned and run public services in the UK and elsewhere.

And yet within a week or so, it was announced that one of the leading construction and service companies in the UK that has got much of the ‘outsourced’ previously publicly owned projects had gone bust.  Carillion, as it likes to call itself, employs about 20,000 people in the UK and has more staff abroad. It specialised in the construction of public roads, rail and bridges and ‘facilities management’ and ongoing maintenance for state schools, the armed forces, the rail network and the UK’s national health service.

But it seems that it had taken on too many projects from the UK public sector at prices that delivered very narrow margins.  So, as debt issuance rose and profitability disappeared, cash began to haemorrhage.  Carillion ran up a huge debt pile of £900m.  But this did not stop the Carillion board lying about their financial state, continuing to pay themselves large salaries and bonuses and fat dividends to their shareholders.  In contrast, the company did little to reduce a mounting deficit on the pensions fund of their 40,000 global staff, putting their pensions in jeopardy. Indeed, Carillion raised its dividends every year for 16 years while running up a pensions deficit of £587m.  It paid out nearly £200m in dividends in the last two years alone.  The recently sacked CEO took home £660,000 a year plus bonuses.

But eventually, the bank creditors had enough and pulled the plug on further loans and Carillion has closed.  With the liquidation of the company, thousands of jobs are likely to go, while pension benefits could be cut and the British taxpayer will have to pick up the bill of maintaining necessary services previously provided by Carillion.

Amazingly, as I write, the Official Receiver for the bankrupt company says that all the top executives are “still on the payroll” and receiving their salaries, including the recently sacked chief executive.  The government has announced it will guarantee the salaries of employees in 450 public sector contracts run by Carillion.  So the taxpayer will be covering these.  But over 60,000 employees working on private sector jobs are likely to receive no more wages from now, while up to 30,000 sub-contractors have invoices of £1bn that are unlikely ever to be met.

Carillion is a very graphic confirmation that outsourcing public services and sectors to private companies to ‘save money’ on ‘inefficient’ public sector operations is a nonsense.  The reason for privatisation and outsourcing has really been to cut the costs of labour, reduce conditions and pension rights for employees and to make a quick buck for companies and hedge funds.  But such is competition for these contracts that, increasingly, private companies cannot sustain services or projects even when they have cut costs to the bone.  So they just pull out or go bust, leaving the taxpayer with the mess. It’s a microcosm of capitalist economic collapse.

Carillion is not the first example in the UK.  The 2007 failure of Metronet, which had been contracted to maintain and upgrade the London Underground cost the taxpayer at least £170m.  In the UK, outsourcing of public sector operations has reached 15% of public spending or about £100bn.  So more may be under threat.  Indeed, half a million UK businesses have started 2018 in significant financial distress, according to insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor, as the UK economy felt the effects of higher inflation, rising interest rates, growing business uncertainty and weaker consumer spending.

A total of 493,296 businesses were experiencing significant financial distress in the final quarter of 2017 according to Begbies’ latest “red flag alert”, which monitors the health of UK companies. That was 36% higher than at the same point in 2016 and 10% higher than in the third quarter of 2017.  And the worst situation was to be found in the services sector. A total of 121,095 businesses in the sector were showing signs of financial difficulty, up 43% on a year earlier.

Martin Wolf’s claim that privatisation has been a success because it is more efficient is just nonsense.  For the last 25 years, the UK government, starting with Thatcher and continued by right-wing Blair and Brown Labour governments, has resorted to ‘private finance initiatives’ to fund public sector building of schools, hospitals, rail and roads.  Under the PFI, banks and hedge funds fund the projects in return for interest and income paid by the operators of the projects, with payments spread over 25 years.  The idea was to keep down ‘public debt’ levels.  But of course, this was at the expense of future generations of taxpayers.

According to the UK’s National Audit Office in a new report, taxpayers will be forced to hand over nearly £200bn to contractors under PFI deals for at least the next 25 years.  And there was little evidence that there were any financial savings in doing PFI – indeed the cost of privately financing public projects can be 40% higher than relying solely upon government bonds, auditors found.  Annual charges for these deals amounted to £10.3bn in 2016-17. Even if no new deals are entered into, future charges that continue until the 2040s amount to £199bn, it.  “After 25 years of PFI, there is still little evidence that it delivers enough benefit to offset the additional costs of borrowing money privately,” … many local bodies are now shackled to inflexible PFI contracts that are exorbitantly expensive to change.”

And yet Martin Wolf reckons that it does not make sense to renationalise privatised state operations.  He makes the usual claim that state companies were huge inefficient behemoths that were not accountable to the public, “chronically overmanned and heavily politicised. They either underinvested or made poor investment decisions”.  Oh, unlike the private profit monopolies that now run Britain’s utilities, rail and energy and broadband.

Wolf digs up some research from the 1980s and 1990s by William Megginson of the University of Oklahoma who argues that public companies were more inefficient than the private counterparts.  Wolf also cites research from 2002 that British railways have been more efficient under the nightmarish private franchise experiment that rail travellers have experienced since 1997 along with the disastrous collapse of RailTrack, the private company that took over the maintenance of the track.  Tell this to rail travellers and staff.

There is, however, a pile of research that reaches opposite conclusions from Wolf’s sources.  I quote from the recent PSIRU report: “there is now extensive experience of all forms of privatisation and researchers have published many studies of the empirical evidence on comparative technical efficiency. The results are remarkably consistent across all sectors and all forms of privatisation and outsourcing: there is no empirical evidence that the private sector is intrinsically more efficient. The same results emerge consistently from sectors and services which are subject to outsourcing, such as waste management, and in sectors privatised by sale, such as telecoms.”

Detailed studies of the UK privatisations of electricity, gas, telecoms, water and rail have also found no evidence that privatisation has caused a significant improvement in productivity.  A comprehensive analysis in 2004 of all the UK privatisations concluded: “These results confirm the overall conclusion of previous studies that …privatisation per se has no visible impact …. I have been unable to find sufficient statistical macro or micro evidence that output, labour, capital and TFP productivity in the UK increased substantially as a consequence of ownership change at privatisation compared to the long-term trend.”

Evidence from developing countries points to the same conclusion. A global review of water, electricity, rail and telecoms by the World Bank in 2005 concluded: “the econometric evidence on the relevance of ownership suggests that in general, there is no statistically significant difference between the efficiency performance of public and private operators” (Estache et al 2005).

The largest study of the efficiency of privatized companies looked at all European companies privatized during 1980-2009. It compared their performance with companies that remained public and with their own past performance as public companies. The result? The privatized companies performed worse than those that remained public and continued to do so for up to 10 years after privatization.

Wolf’s answer to the failures of privatisation and outsourcing is to “reform the structure and purposes of regulation”.  As if regulation ever worked; indeed, current thought among government elites and big business is that economies need to loosen up regulation again in order to get things going.  To quote Wolf himself from his book on the lessons of the banking crash: “notwithstanding all the regulatory reforms, the system is bound to fail again,”

Public ownership is not of “totemic significance” to the left, as Wolf harps.  It is based on clear evidence that delivering services that people need is best done within a plan and not based on the level of profitability for the likes of Carillion. Yes, public ownership and state companies that become just milk cows for the profits of the private sector without any democratic control are not what we require.  But democratically run public companies as part of a plan for production for need are not “a dead end”, but the future.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Taxing the Rich is a Temporary Tactic

This is a perfect example of why you can't make capitalism humane by taxing the rich, or regulating it in to decency. Not that democratic workers' ownership and control of the means of food production would produce something like Coca Cola. This does not mean in the struggle to make the lives of people better in the capitalist mode of production that we can't shift the share of the wealth we create from them to us; we can.   If the market doesn't take this price rise and folks go buy more Pepsi's or drink less soda, the owners of capital that have invested it in Coca Cola may suffer a loss.

Socialists support the fight for such reforms like taxing the rich because we believe we should struggle to improve the material conditions of the workers of the world and defend the natural world in which we live.   But we must recognize that as long as a tiny minority do own the means of production (including the production of ideas through their universities and other such institutions) any victory is a very temporary one. Not only that, but in this epoch, victories are harder to come by and shorter lived.  It is also through the struggle for reforms that we learn lessons about the nature of society. Socialists fight for them not because we think they are a gateway to socialism, we fight for them as part of our struggle to overthrow capitalism and build a democratic socialist society and world.  Richard Mellor

Reprinted from the Independent UK

Coca-Cola blames sugar tax as it cuts coke bottle size and puts prices up

A 1.75l bottle of Coke will shrink to 1.5l as price goes up 20p

Coca-Cola said it will cut the size of its 1.75l bottle of Coke to 1.5l while putting up the price by 20p in the UK.

The price of a 500ml bottle will also go up from £1.09 to £1.25, Coca-Cola confirmed on Monday.
The global drinks maker said the changes were in response to Britain’s sugar tax which comes into force in April.
The levy will be set at 18p on drinks containing 5g of sugar or more per 100ml and a higher 24p rate on those with more than 8g per 100ml.

Coke contains more than 10g of sugar per 100ml with a 1.75l bottle containing 186g.

“We have no plans to change the recipe of Coca-Cola Classic so it will be impacted by the government’s soft drinks tax,” said a spokesperson for Coca-Cola European Partners.
The Soft Drinks Industry Levy, or sugar tax, was announced by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2016 as an attempt to combat spiralling levels of type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity.
The Treasury estimates the tax will raise £520m a year – money that it says will go towards funding sport in primary schools.

The tax has prompted some drinks makers to replace sugar in their recipes with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

An online petition titled “Hands off our Irn Bru” attracted thousands of signatures this month. It called on the soft drink’s maker, AG Barr, to rethink its decision to change the ingredients of the Scottish “national treasure”.

AG Barr earlier announced plans to cut Irn Bru’s sugar content by more than half

CLR James, Socialism, Racism and Revolution

We share this commentary as a contribution to the discussions FFWP is having on the strategy and tactics of the struggle against racism and the approach of socialists in general. Admin

by Joel Schor Sailors Union of the Pacific, also affiliated ILWU

CLR James has been recognized by many from different political tendencies and outlooks as a profound thinker and fierce fighter on behalf of black people and the oppressed the world over.  Born in Trinidad under British rule as a Crown Colony, he was a teenage Cricket star, was active in the British Trotskyist movement up to the mid 1930's, before he emigrated to the United States and becoming part of the Socialist Workers Party SWP up to WWII. He lived his last thirty years in Britain from the 1950's forming what he termed an independent Marxist grouping. 

Like Franz Fannon, James came from the tradition of radical black West Indians inspired by the revolutions against despotism in the 18th Century. Notably in San Domingo - Haiti 1804- and in general the era of uprisings, naval mutinies, and slave rebellions in the Atlantic and Caribbean of the latter part of that century preceding the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the imperialist scramble for Africa, and the British colonization of India. This era of mercantile and naval war amongst the imperialist powers - Britain, France, Spain, and Holland -  was fought over trade routes and colonial territory for spices, sugar, and slave trading. 
Active in the Socialist and Labor movement of the 1930‘s in the United States, James emphasized the strong symbiosis between the black and proletarian revolutions. Under the pen name J. R. Johnson, James met with Trotsky in 1939 in Mexico and developed a program which was accepted by the SWP on the Black or Negro question in the United States. Basically the program had already been laid out by Lenin in 1917 writing on the National Question in relation to the 1905 revolution against the Tsar and the 1916 Irish uprising. However, CLR James felt the Trotskyists in the United States to have been reluctant to put this program into practice.

While the Communist Party's characterization of the Trotskyists as "Social Fascists" was extreme and possibly ultra-left, the Trotskyists were in fact shying away from involving themselves in a more pro-active manner with the struggles of black people in many instances. It was his assessment that while the SWP was not actively doing harm, they were also not taking up the opportunities available to bring about a more powerful black and general workers fight back to racism and capitalist exploitation. As an example, on the West Coast in the maritime industry the Trotskysists, then a faction inside the Socialist Party USA, took up the position of craft union “autonomy”  advocated by the Sailors Union in its fight with the Longshore Union in their joint struggles and jurisdictional squabbles.

While the Trotskyists saw themselves as upholding the principle of rank and file democracy, in many ways they ended playing left cover for a union leadership which looked the other way to racist practices within their organization. What CLR James proposed to the newly formed SWP in 1939 was that independent black struggles for democratic rights, for economic equality, self determination should all be considered as important to Socialists as the proletarian struggle itself, and also that the rank and file workers movements then coming about in maritime, steel, auto, and transport which all involved increasing numbers of blacks migrating into industrial areas from the South, were  themselves dependent on the independent black movements. 

In a document titled Revolution and the Negro, James looks at several key historical revolutions in European and American history and the involvement of black people. In the American Civil War, there was the underground railroad which defied the fugitive slave law of 1850, and at the same time the British working class demanding an end to slavery the world over just as it had been abolished entirely in the colonies and trade by 1807.An interesting account of the British workers and the American Civil War can be found in Philip Foner's British Labor and the American Civil War

The combined anti-war and slavery position of Gladstone and Karl Marx in Britain pressured Lincoln to make this demand to end slavery prescient in order to keep Europe out, despite the fact the position of Lincoln and the British Torry PM on the war were merely to appease the protectionist Northern Industrial class against the free trade Southern Agriculturalists. In the French Revolution where the ideals of  "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality" were proclaimed in 1792, a slave revolt had just ocured a year before on the island of San Domingo. In 1798 four years after France had banned slavery in its colonies the mulattos of the French West Indies overcame recent British invasions of those islands, and in San Domingo an independent nation was established which fought off an attempt of Napoleon to re-take the island and becoming Haiti in 1804. James pointed out that anti-colonial movements throughout the world sought the aid of the black revolutionaries from the West Indies including Simon Bolivar who traveled to Haiti several times. Also the role of blacks in the American colonies war of independence who's first casualty was a black man by the name of Crispus Attucks.
A few years after the formation of the SWP in America, James along with Max Schactman formed the Workers Party which proposed that the Soviet Union should not even be given critical support after the invasion of Finland and the division of Poland in 1941. While Schactman proclaimed the Soviet Union as bureaucratic collectivist, James had characterized it as "state capitalist" at that time. They continued as two factions within the Workers Party until after WWII when James split from Schactman and lead his group back into the SWP. After the series of betrayals by New Deal Democrats in the US and Labour politicians in Britain after WWII as well as the failed predictions of Trotsky for workers revolutions to come about in the European Countries, James re-newed his call on the SWP to consider the independent struggles of blacks as symbiotic and part of the proletarian struggle. James states at that time;

Those who believe that the Negro question is in reality, purely and simply, or to a decisive extent, merely a class question, they pointed out with glee to the tremendous growth of the Negro personnel in the organized labor movement. It grew in a few years from three hundred thousand to one million; it is now one and a half million. But to their surprise, instead of this lessening and weakening the struggle of the independent Negro movement, the more the Negroes went into the labor movement, the more capitalism incorporated them into industry, the more they were accepted in the union movement, it is during that period, since 1940, that the independent mass movement has broken out with a force greater than it has ever been before. ( Report to the 13th Convention of the SWP The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the US in 1948 given by comrade J. Meyers).

James writes of how the strikes at Ford's Rouge River assembly plant in 1941 consisted of a great number of blacks despite the fact that Ford had been trying to paternalistically appease blacks, proclaiming that at least he hired them and gave them a chance out of poverty. He writes of subsequent housing struggles in Detroit lead by black women in 1943, and how a local CIO leader running for office was forced to take up their cause in order to save losing face to reactionaries who accused him of being a "Negro Lover".  

Whatever this CIO labor leader's attitude was towards this fight for public housing, he had to recognize this struggle as blacks were a growing part of his constituency and he could not seem to be weak against the accusatory whip of the counter-revolution. These were times, of course when the labor movement was on the rise and it could have a more direct effect on struggles like this. In the early 1950's the SWP had internal splits, CLR James left that organization, returned to London and proclaimed himself and a group of friends to be an independent Marxist current. The labor movement in the United States had been purged of radicals over the last decade like Ferdinand Smith of the National Maritime Union who was targeted with the help of his former allies and comrades and deported back to his native Jamaica. There were the Smith Act trials of 1951 against radicals such as Al Richmond who's mother had spent time in a Czarist prison for organizing resistance before the revolution and moved to San Francisco with the family. Senator Joseph McCarthy lead the second Red Scare into many institutions of society such as Hollywood, academia, and the defense Industry. 
In 1967 CLR James gave a talk Black Power  to an unnamed organization in Britain where he spoke of the movement spurred on by Stokely Carmichael - also a native Trinidadian - who had been active as a leading member of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee SNCC working alongside Martin Luther King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At the time of James' talk in Britain, Stokely had just become a fugitive of justice under J. Edgar Hoovers Counterintelligence program and had his passport revoked while overseas. It would just be another year until the King the assassination and the rise of the Black Panther Party would take off in the urban areas of the United States. 

In this talk James mentions several writers who he believed influenced the progress of the black struggle including Franz Fannon, Marcus Garvey, and W. E Dubois. They wrote of National Liberation against local elites in the third world, world consciousness of the African people in diaspora, and the morally destructive influence of slavery on civilization as a whole. James also spoke of his changing views and activism in the socialist movement from the 1930's to the time he was now speaking in the late1960's. In breaking with what he called "the premises of Trotskyism" in 1951, James stated that he went back to the fundamental premises of Lenin on the National Question and what Socialist Revolution therefore was. He quoted Lenin on the National Question during this point of the talk;

The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything else than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all oppressed and discontented elements. Sections of the petty bourgeoise and of the backward workers will inevitably participate in it - without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible- and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weakness and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the objective truth of a heterogeneous and discordant, motley and outwardly incohesive, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, to capture power, to seize the banks, to expropriate the trusts (hated by all, though for different reasons) and introduce other bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which however, will by no means immediately "purge" itself of petty-bourgeois slag. (Lennin on the National Question)     

 CLR James ended that address to the British audience by stating he felt there had been no stronger voice raised for Socialism in the United States than Stokely Carmichael at that time in 1967. Whether you agree or not with this assessment, the transformation of CLR James's thought and activism in the Trotskyist movement is interesting. It is possible he intended to break with the practice of Democratic Centralism, yet I am not sure this is clear or even the intention. Certainly CLR James recognized that the practice of Trotskyists had serious flaws and certainly repudiated the Stalinist approach on the Negro Question in the 1930's of advocating a separate state for blacks in America. The mistakes made by the Socialist movement of his time were seemingly strategic and of the moment but they became much more he pointed out. James was without doubt a tireless advocate on behalf of the proletarian revolution who realized the dialectic of quantity becoming quality throughout his life. A multi-faceted person, he was also a historian of the Caribbean writing the Black Jacobins on the Haitian Revolution and a few works of fiction notably Mariners, Renegades and Castaways. We would all do well to understand CLR James and the complexity of his contribution to Socialism better.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Pakistan: Rape of 7 year old in New Year Sparks Protests

The rape and murder of a young girl in Pakistan has sparked calls for #JusticeforZainab around the world, amid anger over a spate of unresolved child sex crimes in the conservative nation. (Image: Reuters) *

Effective awareness raising and reporting processes way forward in curbing increase in child sexual abuse cases

Friday, 12th January 2018: The brutal rape and murder of a seven-year old girl in Kasur, consequent slack in the police’s investigation and ensuing violence against demonstrators seeking justice for the child is a deplorable situation for the state authorities to be in.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement: “subsequent dismissal of the concerned police officials or suo motu action by an appellate court as a response to tragic cases like that of Zainab’s, are not permanent nor effective solutions in fighting the plague of child sexual abuse in the country, but  are simply a way to allay the public’s emotions temporarily. Can the provincial government explain how or why demonstrators were fired at in Kasur the day Zainab’s case became public and in which two people were killed? Can the provincial government share what relief measures have been provided to the child victims of sexual abuse in Kasur in prior cases and what measures it has taken generally to curb this menace permanently? After the introduction of the 18th Amendment, it is the responsibility of provincial governments to devise child protection policies appropriate to their part of the country. Can the provincial governments provide details of their progress in this regard?”  

Disturbing trends, such as that more than 11 children under the age of 18 are sexually abused daily and that most victims are murdered after assault, are indicating a widespread menace that requires prompt and strict as well as sustainable action by the relevant authorities. In 2016, 4139 incidents of child sexual abuse took place where 43 percent of survivors were known to the offenders, while 16 percent of the reported cases showed family members as the perpetrators.

HRCP’s fact finding report on the child pornography scandal in Kasur in 2015 revealed that several such cases were reported but only after being highlighted in the mainstream media. When parents of the victims were asked why they had not reported the abuse in a timely manner, they offered two reasons: (i) the social stigma attached to such incidents; and (ii) the atrocious behavior of the police with those who reported it in a timely manner.

The helpline launched by the Child Protection Bureau Punjab a few years ago was a commendable step. However, the utility and importance of the helpline was not disseminated in an effective way. The helpline needs to be made more accessible and children enrolled in schools and seminaries should be made aware of its scope.

Mass media should also realize that for such tragedies, besides responsible and vigorous reporting, adequate follow-up on reported cases is vital for accountability and as a long-term solution to such horrific incidents.

Our provincial governments must take steps to include these themes in school curricula to make pupils and their families aware of such sensitive issues and empower them to protect themselves. They should be made aware of contact persons or facilities they can immediately approach if facing such situations.

As a nation, we are responsible for protecting our children and should together play an effective role in addressing this menace.

Dr. Mehdi Hasan


Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
107-Tipu Block, New Garden Town, Lahore - 54600
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Bedari, is a women's and children's rights organization in Pakistan if the readers want to know more about these issues. Bedari also focuses on sexual violence against women and children. It is not connected to the HRCP as far as FFWP knows. Bedaris' website is:
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Thursday, January 11, 2018

ASSA 2018 part 2: value, profitability and crises

by Michael Roberts

At ASSA 2018, away from the huge arenas where thousands listened to the millionaire guru mainstream economists speak, were the sessions under the umbrella of the Union of Radical Political Economics (URPE), where just handfuls heard papers from a range of heterodox and radical economists.  These sessions were a mixture of debate on Marx’s value theory (among Marxists) and its dismissal by followers of Piero Sraffa.  But there was also some very interesting research on the nature of capitalist economic cycles and the causes of crises, including the 2008 crash and the Great Recession.

Supporters of ‘neo-Ricardian’ theorist, Piero Sraffa, had a session aimed at comparing Marx’s analysis of capitalism with their own hero.  In his ‘point by point’ comparison of Marx and Sraffa, Robin Hahnel explained that Marx was the “great grandfather” of the critique of capitalism, but a great deal has happened since Marx died in 1883”and it was time to acknowledge that “Marx’s attempt to fashion a formal economic theory of price and income determination in capitalism based on a labor theory of value, and elaborate a Hegelian critique of capitalism, can now be surpassed”.  Now “a number of distinguished Sraffian economists have used modern mathematical tools to elaborate an intellectually rigorous version of Sraffian theory which surpasses formal Marxian economic theory in every regard”.


To justify this claim, Harnel then offers the usual set of neo-Ricardian arguments against Marx’s value theory (first raised by Ian Steedman in 1977): values are not necessary to explain prices or profit under capitalism, indeed they are redundant; Marx’s value and profitability theories are empirically refuted; and anyway, Okishio has completely rebutted Marx’s theory of crises based on the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

There is no room in this post to respond properly to these traditional arguments of the Sraffians.  Instead I refer readers to the battery of work done by Marxist economists over the last 40 years that show the logic of Marx’s theory, expose the unrealistic assumptions in Sraffa’s approach and provide empirical support for Marx’s laws of motion under capitalism.  I have only to mention but a few: the work of Husson, Carchedi, Freeman, Kliman and Moseley among many others.

Indeed, at ASSA, in other sessions Marxist value theory was convincingly expounded.  Riccardo Bellofiore took us carefully on a tour through Marx’s value theory from various anglesAnd see Bellofiore’s account of Sraffa from another session.


And Fred Moseley recounted his important summary of Marx’s value theory and laws of motion in his book of last year, Money and Totality.  His book offers a firm critique of Sraffian theory as well as a convincing interpretation of the so-called transformation problem of ‘converting’ labour values into the prices of production – an issue that the Sraffians and all critics of Marx’s value theory latch onto.


At ASSA, Moseley’s ‘macro-monetary’ approach to Marx’s value theory was criticised by David Laibman and Gilbert Skillman.

But Moseley was firm in his view that Marx’s theory of capitalism is internally logically consistent.  The long-standing and widely-held criticism that Marx “failed to transform the inputs” in his theory of prices of production in Volume 3 is not a valid criticism. Marx did not fail to transform the inputs because the inputs are not supposed to be transformed. The inputs of constant capital and variable capital are the same actual quantities money capital advanced at the beginning of the circuit of money capital to purchase means of production and labor-power which are taken as given”.  So prices of production can be derived from total surplus-value and general rate of profit in a logically consistent way.  Marx’s value theory is both necessary and sufficient in explaining market prices, indeed better than mainstream neoclassical marginalist theory or the ‘physicalist’ production equations of Sraffa.

As I said, the debate between Marxists and the neo-Ricardians/Sraffians is now over 40 years old.  It boils down to whether you think Marx’s value theory and his critique of capitalism is logically valid.  Marxists have, in my opinion, conclusively won that debate.

But for Marxist economics in the last 15 years, and certainly since the Great Recession, the issue has moved on to whether Marx’s value and crisis theory is empirically supported.  There has been a mountain of studies on this – with work by Freeman, Kliman, Moseley, Carchedi (and myself).  And this year, Carchedi and I will publish a collection of research by young Marxist economists from all corners of the globe that help verify empirically Marx’s law of profitability and theory of crises.

And at ASSA, yet more convincing empirical work was presented.  In particular, David Brennan presented an analysis based, he said, on using Marx’s law of profitability and Michal Kalecki’s macro identities. Brennan offered “a new methodology based on the work of Kalecki to provide empirical estimates of profits and the various components of realization, profit rates, and the organic composition of capital. These estimates provide new insights into the Great Recession and the “recovery.”


Now readers of this blog and some of my research papers will know that I have serious criticisms of the Keynes/Kalecki macro identities as a useful tool in explaining crises under capitalism.  In essence, as Brennan also shows when he goes through the macro categories, the capitalist economy’s driver can be boiled down to profits=investment identity.

Why? Because if we assume workers in general consume all they get and capitalists save all they get, while governments balance their books and external trade is in balance, then all that is left is profits=investment.  The Keynesian/Kalecki conclusion is that investment drives or creates profits based on the view of the ‘effective demand’ of capitalists.  But this is back to front.  The Marxist view is that profits drive or create investment, not vice versa.  And there is plenty of empirical evidence to confirm the Marxist view.

But Brennan wanted to make the point that crises could not be caused by just a fall in the rate of profit; slumps also depend on the realisation of the mass of profit.  Marxian theory was not wrong about the causes of the Great Recession, although various Marxian theories emphasized different aspects of the crisis. In the end, the rate of profit matters for the trajectory of the economy. But to understand crises like the Great Recession, profit rates alone are not sufficient. Crises, unlike typical recessions, are sudden and often unforeseen. The Great Recession was both a profit rate and a profit realization crisis.”

Brennan sees the latter as the contribution of Kalecki.  Actually, Marx’s theory of crises has always taken that into account.  Indeed, when the rate of profit falls and is no longer compensated for by a rise in the mass of profit, a slump is set to come.  The Marxist economist, Henryk Grossman, particularly emphasised this aspect of Marx’s crisis theory.

As Marx put it: “the so-called plethora (overaccumulation) of capital always applies to a plethora of capital for which the fall in the rate of profit is not compensated by the mass of profit… and “overproduction of commodities is simply overaccumulation of capital”.  It is precisely when the mass of profit stopped rising that the Great Recession ensued.

And this is what Brennan finds in the US data using his combination of a Marxian rate of profit and ‘Kalecki’ profits.  The profit rate fell in the 1964-1980 period and then rose in the neoliberal 1980-2006 period, fell during the Great Recession and recovered subsequently.  These results repeat what a host of studies have already shown.

Brennan now adds the impact of the movement in the mass of profits (a la Kalecki) and finds that the Marxian profit rate peaked well before the global financial crash and then was followed a fall in the mass of profit and investment.  “It was the significant dip in total profit flows coupled with the low rates of profit, accumulation and exploitation that formed the Great Recession.” Exactly: below is my version.

Brennan adds a slightly different interpretation: “The rate of exploitation up to that time peaked during 2006Q1. Yet profit flows continued to rise until 2008Q3. Therefore, the financial sector was essentially trying to realize profit gains that were not there in real production. This is one reason why the housing boom could not continue much past the end of 2005. While the crisis was indeed precipitated by the housing collapse, the collapse was brought on by difficulties of both profit production and realization.”  Yet, Brennan’s Kalecki analysis confirms the Marxist analysis already presented by Carchedi, Freeman, Kliman, (myself) and many others.

Marx’s crisis theory stands out as mainstream economics flails about, unable to forecast or explain the global financial crash, the ensuing Great Recession and the Long Depression that has followed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts on Socialism and Feminism.

Sara Mayo blogs at is a South East Wales based socialist feminist and trade union education worker working in Cardiff, capital of Wales. She is concerned about working-class women and the sex based rights of women and girls currently threatened by the controversial proposed gender recognition act by the hated Tory government. She is also concerned about the complicit role of Welsh and U.K. trade unions and the wider labour movement in stopping workers taking industrial action, women and girls organizing, and the censorship of feminists and the growing racism and nationalism which the left is not successfully combating as it is at war with itself over trans rights and identity politics.

UK's Position on Europe Explained.

Yes Minister was a British political comedy series during the 80's. Here's a short clip. It was quite popular and not entirely inaccurate.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


BOOK REVIEW - DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS - The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy Maclean 2017

By Joel Schor
Member - Sailors Union of the Pacific S.U.P.
Also affiliated with - International Longshore and Warehouse Union ILWU - local 10

A few months ago I read Nancy Maclean’s Democracy In Chains -The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. Like Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine this book is written from a populist perspective and has been very popular amongst the progressive and liberal left.

Mclean tells of how a group of right wing intellectuals have foisted their agenda into the mainstream of economic policy in America. These radical right wing forces, Maclean’s book explains, have a long history in American politics beginning with reaction against New Deal laws in the 1930's and mandating employer recognition of unions and Civil Rights public school integration in the 60's. Mclean begins tracing the origins of far right / libertarian views entering mainstream academia at the University of Virginia UAV under an economics department chair - James Mcgill Buchanan - who came out of a legal background in Virginia politics. He worked alongside politicians and newspaper moguls who opposed the rights of workers to organize and non-whites (specifically blacks) to attend non-segregated public schools.

Buchanan developed grass roots political campaigns in Virginia to re-segregate schools in the wake of the Brown decision in the 60's. The conservative coalition that arose around the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater and eulogized the culture of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, developed themselves theoretically. They considered themselves heir to the legacy of the 1930‘s European libertarian philosopher Ludwig Von Mises and the Austrian school of economics. These theoreticians espoused free market doctrines taken up by Van Hayek in opposition to John Maynard Keynes’ monetary and fiscal policy. Also, the Chicago School of Economics under Milton Friedman came out of this libertarian movement and brought about what Naomi Klein called the "Shock Doctrine".

Margaret Thatchers attack on the coal miners in the UK, Reagan's crack-down on the air traffic control PATCO workers, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment policies all over the world beginning in Latin America in the late 1970’s and 80's, were all based on the Chicago School of economics and often made references to Von Hayek's anti-Keynesianism in their justifications. 

While coming out of the same theoretical mold as the Chicago School, Buchanan and his economics department at UAV took a more decidedly qualitative approach to put libertarianism in the mainstream. Buchanan sought to change laws and even the constitution of a nation. His economic theory of “Rent Seeking Behavior” came about where special interests take over the functions of government through excessive lobbying and pressure. While the more established, technical, and quantitatively oriented Chicago school chided Buchanan as a kind of backwater Hillbilly, they continued his membership in the Austrian Mont Pellerin society, and Friedman praised Buchanan’s work in instigating legal and structural changes which would bring about a more free market society.

Mclean traces the alt-right’s current focus on changing the judiciary in the United States to the long term strategy which Buchanan and his libertarians saw as necessary. The book goes on to explain how the Koch brothers and the Cato institute took over the mission of Buchanan's academic work in the latter 1970's by establishing an elaborate fund raising apparatus and private think tanks. They were dedicated to the overthrow of the statist world system of the twentieth century and what they called "The Establishment". 

 Mclean explains how the central theoretical figures around the Cato Institute were committed, and espoused the ideas of Lenin in building a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries to harden themselves in the coming battle for their free market society. Just as with many inspired scientists and skilled workers who were the inventors of technology used by industrial titans like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, the founding libertarian idealists of the Cato Institute were cast aside by those who controlled capital and could dispose of them as they saw fit.

The lead brother of the Koch's - Charles - found it more expedient to appeal to traditional conservative values in order to build an electoral coalition. Appealing to working class voters on the basis of religion and even the false promise of non-existent jobs in long dead industries certainly went against the tenants of a libertarian society where all should be free to choose and act on the basis of equality in condition and opportunity. This was the assembly line and operating system of these right wing politicians towards political advancement at the expense of human creativity and innovation.

Beginning with a concerted opposition to workers organizing into industrial unions in the 1930‘s the right wing think tanks organized themselves in the decades to follow. Libertarianism would not apply to capital itself as the grand elephant in the room. Other “special interest” groups must by implication tolerate the crushing influence of this elephant on their lives. Maclean explains the importance and intensity of developing ideas for the radical right in America. Why it is important for them is somewhat of an unanswered question here, but the story of how it happens is very interesting and informative.