Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire victims speak out.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire comment.

The fire was the result of social cleansing, just like ethnic cleansing, removing people from an area for economic and political reasons. I remember when my dad first got out of the army and some years later when we had moved to Oxfordshire my mum complaining that she felt military people were discriminated when it came to the council housing list. Back then she thought it was a great opportunity to get on it. I am not aware enough to know all of the pitfalls of the council housing project that began after the war but I do know that a lot of these homes were good homes.

With council housing, communities were secure, working class people grew up together, lived in one place for a certain amount of time. It wasn't like the US where living in social housing is considered charity, you are a failure, not owning your own home. Grenfell is in the richest borough in Britain, I think, the Queen lives there perhaps she never noticed the poverty and inequality in her neighborhood. The authorities dragged her down there for a bit, got on TV and that's probably the first and last time she'll visit that place. She would never make a decision to do such a think herself, she's oblivious to the real world.

The capitalist offensive needed to drive these people out, until that was possible, throw a few million taxpayer dollars at the building to pretty it up a bit so it doesn't affect property values too much or offend the rapacious middle class and the tourists.  Spent $13 million and never even put sprinklers in it. 

We always remind readers, and we should always remind ourselves that these tragedies, Grenfell, here in the US, Katrina, the West Texas explosion, the BP spill are market driven disasters, they are, as far as working people and the environment is concerned "system" failures, all of them the result of conscious decisions made by human beings and political parties representing class interests. 

In all of these situations, it is not legislation, the courts, the political representatives of the capitalist class that can resolve them or prevent them it is the direct intervention of the working class as a class for ourselves. We can  stop their system from functioning. We can shut down their profit making machine. We can and must in the last analysis own and control the mechanism's and resources that allow society to function. 

As the guy in the video says, only their community came to their aid.  This process has to be broadened so that the working class as a national and global community can come to the aid of humanity and build a safer, more secure and productive future for us all.

We have the organization and existing structures to take that road. We are burdened with a leadership that in its conservatism does not see another way, that in its own collective consciousness accepts the status quo. Most importantly, it  does not believe that the working class can govern, can build something different. Having no alternative to capitalism they suppress the working class, hold back the movement for fear it will shatter their world. For them, the working class in motion can only lead to chaos.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Brexit: Time to Correct the Error

by Finbar Geaney
member Irish Labor Party
Member, Executive Committee of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions

The leaders of the British labour movement, and unfortunately much of the ‘left’, are being led blindfold into a cul-de-sac. The proposed exit of Britain from the European Union has generated a procession of pilgrims that is shuffling slowly into the outer dark chanting meaningless phrases about ‘soft Brexit’, ‘hard Brexit’, ‘hard Border’, ‘soft Border’ and respect for ‘the decision of the people’.

There is no ‘Tory Brexit’ or ‘left Brexit’. There is only Brexit – a thoroughly reactionary movement, in every respect. The foundations of the process lie in a split within the British Tory Party. Some of the leaders on the left in Britain – including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn – have always been confused on the question of Europe. It was their belief that being opposed to the EU was an essential component of being on the left. This confusion has only given succour to the right-wing Tories in their endeavour. It is time now to correct that error.

When the so-called ‘gang of four’ brought about a split in the British Labour Party more than three decades ago the issue was presented then as a dispute about the European Economic Community. In fact the principal aim of Jenkins, Rogers, Owen and Williams was to prevent the election of a left Labour Government. The question of Europe was but a dust jacket designed to present these individuals as people of principle who believed in internationalism and to conceal their essential purpose which was to facilitate a further victory for Thatcher as the better of the two options then available, an objective that they achieved. Jenkins himself went on to become President of the European Commission, which only added to the confusion allowing form and substance to be intermingled.

Jeremy Corbyn and co. now find themselves hoist on a hook about a phony democratic principle. ‘The people have spoken!’ Well the last time that the British people ‘spoke’ was last May when a Tory Government was cobbled together with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Does anybody seriously argue in that case the ‘decision of the people’ on that occasion should remain inviolate for a period of five years? Or what about Trump in the US! The people spoke there last November. Is that decision also beyond bounds! People can change their minds, and they do all the time.

The Tories say that they will get some agreement following their discussions with EU bureaucrats. Well, let them bring that deal back for a fresh vote by the British people. And the next time that such a vote comes around hopefully the discussion will be on such issues as pay, conditions, protections for workers, employment opportunities and public services. And internationalism! The necessity for the organised labour movement to unite across national boundaries in a common endeavour against the depredations of capitalism, especially in its current destructive phase, is obvious. It is high time for a common programme of demands to be presented by trade unions across Europe in all of these policy areas. The campaign must start now with a series of international conferences of the labour movement.

There needs to be a public discussion, illuminated by socialist internationalism, on the issue of the free movement of people in Europe. Preventing workers of other EU countries from coming to Britain in search of work is the intent behind the drive to leave the Single Market.

The issue of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to escape the horrors of despotic rule and military dictatorship is not the consequence of EU actions as such but reflects centuries of colonial rule by European and other world powers and the continuing series of proxy wars cynically fostered by today’s major capitalist powers. This urgent matter of saving the lives of millions of impoverished people has to be addressed immediately but whether or not Britain leaves the EU will not itself be a determining factor in this. The cynical use in the anti-EU campaign by Farage and UKIP of photographs of masses of impoverished migrants is but a further illustration of the need to revisit the Referendum.

As far as countries of the EU are concerned there are two issues to be tackled. People should not be driven from their own countries because of poverty and underdevelopment. A socialist programme of public works and industrial development with the aim of raising living standards is essential across all the countries of Europe. Privately-owned banks and finance houses were principally responsible for the impoverishment of so many of the peoples of Europe in the most recent recession. They must be brought into public ownership. At the same time as fighting for the socialist transformation of society as the only alternative to poverty, trade unions in the advanced countries must insist on establishing minimum standards for all workers. Rates of pay, hours of work and safety conditions should be established in such a way as to eliminate super exploitation of poor immigrant workers in the metropolitan countries.

There is no doubt but the drift within the EU has been towards a consolidation of the power of capitalist industry and a diminution of the power of public bodies. But the same is true of every capitalist country. However within the EU such policies are the consequence of a series of Treaties that have been enacted since 1957. All of these Treaties have been voted upon by national parliaments or by popular vote. The European Court of Justice is charged with the legal enforcement of the terms of these Treaties. The Treaties must all now be reopened for public discussion and renegotiated. All measures that weaken public ownership and control must be repealed, as well as any legislative measures that weaken the power of trade unions to fight for improved working conditions.

Political clarity is essential in the EU debate in Britain. Even the term Brexit is problematic, as concealed within this esoteric term is the real process. It is being proposed that the United Kingdom leave the European Union. That has not happened yet. In what ways can it be argued that the UK leaving the EU will be of benefit to workers and their families? Better wages? Better and safer working conditions? A better and more sustainable environment? More jobs with long-term security and decent pay? A key phrase in the right-wing campaign against the EU is ‘restoration of sovereignty’. The Treaties of the EU have ceded sovereignty from national governments in certain areas such as health, safety at work, working hours and the environment. So when the Tories speak of the restoration of sovereignty, in which areas of endeavour do they want to reverse the process? No doubt they are not concerned about reversing measures that facilitate capitalist accumulation or inhibit the expansion of public services, ‘sovereignty’ or not. And what about the ‘sovereignty’ of their own Parliament which they have ceded to an unelected multimillionaire family that resides in Buckingham Palace, or the ‘sovereignty’ that they accord to a bunch of unelected bishops and hereditary peers in their House of Lords!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Film Review: Ilo Ilo, Not Just an Asian Movie

See it on IMDB
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Ilo Ilo, the story of a Filipina maid hired to care for the spoiled child of a Singaporian family may be difficult to get through in the first moments as the child’s behavior is so unpleasant, but this powerful story about a crisis-ridden family during the 1998 Asian financial crash comes though with flying colors.

Ilo Ilo is the first full-length feature for Singaporian director Anthony Chen and the interview with Chen and comments from the cast in the extras on the DVD is worthwhile.  Ilo Ilo is not a “localized” movie as one cast member pointed out. It is not an “Asian” film or a “Singaporian” one; it is about family life and the reality of it, the struggles, the tension, the goings on behind closed doors.

Ilo Ilo is about human relations, the day-to-day existence under pressure that is common to humanity. It is about class, struggles at work and the sacrifices workers in poor countries and communities make to feed their families and their own children by looking after the children of others. One cannot help being reminded of the brutal conditions Filipino and other maids have endured working for the wealthy in Saudi Arabia and other countries although there is no such comparison here.

It is somewhat autobiographical as Chen himself was raised by a maid from the age of 8 to 12 and he points out that by far, these experiences for the children of working parents are more often than not positive ones.

The cast, from the maid played by a well known Filipina actor to the boy and the parents, are real people living their lives as so many families do. The scene with the maid washing the young boy in the shower and the interplay between them, I am not sure they would have been the same if Ilo Ilo was an American made movie. We are known to blurr butt cracks here in the US, even of 10 year olds.

This is a wonderful, powerful film that will not be contained by borders, nationality, language or other social obstructions. It is however in Mandarin and Tagalog so the viewer is faced with subtitles which will unfortunately, along with limited circulation as there’s not enough explosions and violence in it, mean millions of Americans will never see this film.

If we want to “Make America Great Again” it might help if Americans watched more movies like Ilo Ilo.

Wall Street Journal Savages Trump

A quick comment:

We reprint this commentary below from the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board.  We will have more on this subject but this is a significant development coming from the most important journal of the US ruling class.  It is important for workers to grasp the underlying forces at work here and the reason for the assault.

Facts For Working People has pointed out in previous posts that while all the details about Trump's life and behavior are relevant, they are not what lies at the root of the growing disdain among the US bourgeois for the Administration or Trump himself. The fact that a paper like the WSJ or the mass media in general rarely, if ever refers to Trump as  misogynist or racist, which is clearly what he is, proves this.

What has forced the dominant sections of the US capitalist class to take Trump to task through the medium of the WSJ editorial board is his continued and extremely dangerous undermining of the system they govern, of bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the most favored form of governance for the capitalist class as opposed to military dictatorship. 

In previous posts we pointed to Trump's threat during the debates with Clinton that he might not abide by election results were he to lose. This caused a furor. The propaganda is that bourgeois democracy is the only form of governance and the capitalist mode of production the only one that works.  Trump's statements threatened this and the consequences it might have if such an idea takes root among significant sections of the working class is what concerns the unelected minority that run the country.  The constant sexist and other ignorant remarks and the inability of the government to function, the non-stop leaks reflecting deep divisions within the state, is not just a domestic threat but also undermines US power and influence on the global stage at a time when US capitalism globally is threatened by the rise of China, Russia, and to a lesser extent Brazil and India. The constant insulting of important allies like Germany and other European states as well as S.Korea, and his antics in the Middle East also contribute the extreme concern about the damage his administration is doing to the system. Bourgeois democracy is supposed to work, it has to have legitimacy among the masses. 

What the dominant US bourgeois have done here through its main journal is basically throw Trump to the wolves. The call for complete transparency would not be made if it were not that Trump's demise is far more preferable to the undermining of class rule in the form of bourgeois democracy.  RM

The Trumps and the Truth

The best defense against future revelations is radical transparency.
 WSJ 07-18-17

U.S. President Donald Trump in the Blue Room of the White House, July 17.

The Editorial Board Updated July 17, 2017 9:27 p.m. ET

Even Donald Trump might agree that a major reason he won the 2016 election is because voters couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton’s legacy of scandal, deception and stonewalling. Yet on the story of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Mr. Trump and his family are repeating the mistakes that doomed Mrs. Clinton.

That’s the lesson the Trumps should draw from the fiasco over Don Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russians peddling dirt on Mrs. Clinton. First Don Jr. let news of the meeting leak without getting ahead of it. Then the White House tried to explain it away as a “nothingburger” that focused on adoptions from Russia.

When that was exposed as incomplete, Don Jr. released his emails that showed the Russian lure about Mrs. Clinton and Don Jr. all excited—“I love it.” Oh, and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Beltway bagman Paul Manafort were also at the meeting. Don Jr. told Sean Hannity this was the full story. But then news leaked that a Russian-American lobbyist was also at the meeting.

Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere—the best case—the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide. They have created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion.

Don’t you get it, guys? Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows.

Mr. Trump seems to realize he has a problem because the White House has announced the hiring of white-collar Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to manage its Russia defense. He’ll presumably supersede the White House counsel, whom Mr. Trump ignores, and New York outside counsel Marc Kasowitz, who is out of his political depth. 

Mr. Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway.

Then release it all to the public. Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office. If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr. Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations.

This is the opposite of the Clinton stonewall strategy, which should be instructive. That strategy saved Bill Clinton’s Presidency in the 1990s at a fearsome price and only because the media and Democrats in Congress rallied behind him. Mr. Trump can’t count on the same from Republicans and most of the media want him run out of office.

If Mr. Trump’s approval rating stays under 40% into next year, Republicans will begin to separate themselves from an unpopular President in a (probably forlorn) attempt to save their majorities in Congress. If Democrats win the House, the investigations into every aspect of the Trump business empire, the 2016 campaign and the Administration will multiply. Impeachment will be a constant undercurrent if not an active threat. His supporters will become demoralized.

Mr. Trump will probably ignore this advice, as he has most of what these columns have suggested. Had he replaced James Comey at the FBI shortly after taking office in January, for example, he might not now have a special counsel threatening him and his family.

Mr. Trump somehow seems to believe that his outsize personality and social-media following make him larger than the Presidency. He’s wrong. He and his family seem oblivious to the brutal realities of Washington politics. Those realities will destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe. They don’t have much more time to do it.

Appeared in the July 18, 2017, print edition

China: Strikes at German Firm End in Defeat.

This report is from the China Labor Bulletin. News from China is often scant but we know there are hundreds of thousands of protests as well as strikes that take place annually. There are no independent unions in China and strikes like this one below are common. The Stalinist bureaucracy will not be able to contain the Chinese working class, hundreds of millions strong, indefinitely and many strikes in auto and other industries have been very successful in raising wages and improving conditions. These are heroic actions under an oppressive dictatorship. There is overcapacity in Chinese industry and increasing debt. Like here in the US, there will be huge explosions in China in the period ahead especially when the next recession or slump comes on the scene most likely before the end of 2018.

And so much for the UN/ILO's so-called global code of conduct rules. Militant independent unions and political organizations, part of a global workers' movement must be built in response to global capitalism's assault on workers rights. RM

Workers at unsafe jobs left with nothing after strike

After two weeks on strike, Mr. Wang has been left with no job, no severance, and a splitting headache.

He was until last week one of nearly 2000 workers at Zama Precision Industry in Shenzhen, wholly-owned by German power tool giant Stihl. Mr. Wang and more than one hundred of his colleagues at unsafe jobs are still campaigning for medical treatment after working for years at dangerous painting jobs without proper safety equipment.

Workers meet to gather demands and discuss strategy 

Zama workers ended their two week strike in early July demanding severance and compensation during the factory’s relocation to Huizhou, around 100 kilometres to the northeast.

Zama workers had been organising through the factory since April when they heard of the factory’s plans to relocate. Workers from across the factory collected various demands, including health and safety grievances, social insurance, and severance payments; they approached management for negotiations, demanding compensations be paid to them in full before the factory relocation.

Mr. Wang worked at Zama for five years, and for the last year and a half as a painter. He and and 150 of his colleagues worked under dangerous conditions and were exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis. “At my post there was absolutely no safety equipment, no masks, no gloves, and no special subsidies like there are at other factories,” said Wang.

The workers suffer from persistent headaches and fear they have incurred occupational illnesses while at Zama. They selected 10 representatives and demanded management pay for medical examinations to check for occupational injuries before the factory relocated.

With worker demands
building up, management refused to pay compensation of any kind before workers either signed new contracts with the company or voluntarily resigned. Zama workers rejected the proposal and went on strike on 26 June. Workers demonstrated within the factory grounds and blocked exits to prevent the shipment of goods and relocation of equipment.

The following day, riot police with dogs arrived at the scene. Five workers were arrested, and over a dozen injured with pepper spray. “It was probably management who called the police” said Mr Wang.

Police intervene in Zama strike: police with riot gear rush toward factory (left) police dispatch canine units (upper right) one Zama worker arrested by police (bottom right)

After the police intervention, management made a final offer at a rate far lower than workers could accept. In response, hundreds of workers resigned en masse, among them Mr Wang and most of his colleagues at dangerous jobs, still nursing headaches. They are now looking for work. “The factory promised us a medical check before we left, but now we haven’t gotten anything. We have heard nothing from them,” said Mr Wang.

In 2015 Stihl signed a
Code of Conduct for its suppliers under the UN Global Compact and International Labour Organization, committing them to a “safe and hygienic working environment” that meets national standards. Article 37 of China’s Work Safety Law clearly stipulates that employees should be provided protective equipment on the job.

Mr. Wang and many of his coworkers have yet to receive their severance payment and promised medical check, and have resolved to fight for their rights, “We are following up, but so far nobody has listened to us,” he said.

This year’s strike was the latest of three strikes in four years at Zama. In 2013,
1000 temporary workers at Zama went on strike, where two rounds of failed negotiations resulted in police intervention.

Automation and jobs in the world's docks

Below is a brief summary of a conference on automation that the author attended.

By Joel Schor
Member, Sailors Union of the Pacific S.U.P.
Casual working under the contract of: International Longshore and Warehouse Union ILWU- Local 10.

The unions basically had the position most of us would, that the primary issue is not whether automation will happen or not but who will control it in the workplace and beyond that, how will a fight be initiated for a shorter work day/week to create more work for all?

A speaker who came later in the day was somewhat interesting in tying the development of automation to the increase of fixed long term costs ( machinery)  over variable costs (mostly labor ) in this industry as leading to the declining overall rate of profit.

The particular speaker, a professor from Lisbon Portugal who had apparently studied maritime labor relations the world over, was very focused on what she termed "the advanced core nations of the world" as opposed to the "peripheral nations". What was missing from her analysis as well as most of the union leaders who spoke from the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the West Coast of America, is the phenomena of China. Is it a "developed" country or a "developing" country?

The professor emphasized that automation only or mainly occurs in the "core" countries where wages are high and automation makes the long-term costs of expensive machinery worthwhile. Why then is the most advanced automated facility in the world in China ahead of Europe and the United States? It could be argued that wages in China are relatively high in certain key industrial sectors, but from what I understand the conditions and wages of the Chinese stevedores lags behind most of the countries where unions have been around longer.

Chinese stevedores work in excess of 12-hour shifts with no extra pay; they sleep and eat in the ports where they work. I can see that much has improved for them in having been there over a 12-year period on ships from 2002 to 2012. In that period China took on on economies of great scale and it continues to seek to capture and control markets. Chinese companies including the state subsidized shipping conglomerate Cosco spent over $20 billion last year up to June investing in and buying up European ports. (Financial Times 7-17-17)

In the last period of China's rapid export growth, that country’s share of world exports was large enough to make economies of great scale possible for their enterprises. There is much more that could be discussed about this. *

As far as the union leadership is concerned, ignoring the fact of China's rapid growth by conquering markets gives a false message to the rank and file. We had presentations from the Maritime Union of Australia talking about partially automated ports where the workforce has been cut down in container terminal operations. There has also been much discussion about a port on the US West Coast in Longbeach which will be fully automated and operational in 2020.

The fact is, China is fully automated and operating now. The emphasis on ports in Europe and America where this imminent reality of full scale automation has not manifested itself as it has in China, creates a vague hope for the workers to fight against the threats to their jobs and security. The reality is much more imminent than what is being presented to them by the leadership. Perhaps the union leaders don't even know or want to know about this, or possibly they have some other plan which remains to be seen at this point.

*  We have a small workers “Think Tank” and we discuss world events and different issues weekly in conference calls. If the reader is interested in the issue above  (or others) and would like to participate in a discussion let us know by e mail at:  With regard to this issue, there are other related issues around government ownership and control which we  should explore as well.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: The Ghost of Galway Past

The Ghost of Galway Past Kevin Higgins reviews a re-issued fictional classic banned in 1929 by the Irish Free State - 'Stalinist Albania without the sex'.

The re-publication of The House of Gold, perhaps Liam O’Flaherty’s finest novel, goes some small way to ameliorate the atrocious wrong done when the book was banned in 1929 by those charged with protecting the people of Ireland from publications that might lead them to have impure thoughts. Until now, the only publicly available copy of it in Galway City - which is on one level the novel’s subject - rested in the library at NUI Galway. I read it for the first time in 2001 when socialist activist Andy Johnston used his access to said library to obtain the book, and lent it to me. It was a dusty old hardback affair of which I had never previously even heard.

Books were banned, so the official Free State line went, because they were deemed indecent or obscene. The truth is, though, the House of Gold is more about power than it is about what the late Sid James often called rumpy-pumpy. An interesting footnote to the suppression of both The House of Gold and the many other books banned in those decades is that the Justice Minister, my not even slightly liberal near-namesake Kevin O’Higgins, was actually initially opposed to the banning of books.

But concerned citizens campaigned to put that right. In 1926 the snappily named Committee on Evil Literature was set up and did a report on the issue for the Department of Justice. After, that is, spending ten months getting all hot and sweaty reading every ‘filthy book’ they could lay their moist palms upon. Today, such a committee would probably include as members such luminaries as William Binchy, Labhrás O’ Murchú, Breda O’Brien, the ever greasy Senator Ronan Mullen, and the tragic monument that is John Waters. The result was the Censorship of Publications Board which was set up in the generally happy clappy year of 1929. Books by pretty much every major Irish writer of the period were banned by the very active Board. Also banned was all literature giving information about family planning.

The House of Gold is set in a fictional town, Barra, where the big hopes most had for post-independence Ireland have vanished down a pretty ghastly dead end. Almost absolute power rests with the avaricious Ramon Mór Costello, who owns most of the town and operates in alliance with some even grubbier than usual representatives of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church. Ramon Mór is an early twentieth century Irish version of J.R. Ewing, without the excellent put-downs and charming personality. Ramon’s wife, Nora, is, to quote Eric Idle: “a bit of a goer.” In the first chapter she sneaks off for an occasion of sin with a left wing dissident, a guy who, if he was around today, would probably be found with megaphone and leaflets outside Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street when he wasn’t busy messing up the bed sheets of the bourgeoise. Their relationship is the best possible sort of class collaboration. Nora despises her husband Ramon, but feels at his mercy, which she absolutely is. It’s also clear she sympathises with the political ideas of the aforementioned dissident: “it make me feel like a criminal, every fair day, to see all these half-starved people coming into town with their cattle, selling them and giving all the money to him.”

In his preface, Tomás Mac Síomóin says: “Anyone familiar with Galway, the gaelicisms of its speech and with its people will recognise that O’Flaherty’s Barra is, in fact, Galway. The character profiles that abound are based, undoubtedly, on identifiable inhabitants of that town in the immediate aftermath of the Irish Civil War.” It is widely believed that Ramon Mór Costello is a fictionalised version of Mairtín 'mór' McDonagh, then patriarch of the McDonagh merchant family, who employed much of the town, sold the farmers everything they needed and bought their cattle from them at ungenerous prices set by a ‘free’ market in which the McDonagh’s had a near monopoly for many decades. This book was explosive material when it was first published eighty four years ago.

Even today, it is a dangerous enough book. It wasn’t just neglect that led to it remaining out of print so long. Nor is it a coincidence that it had to go to Spain to find a publisher. The McDonagh’s are still around. Today they are involved in, among other things, property development. Here is a quote from the website of Thomas McDonagh and Sons Limited:

Established over 150 years ago as merchants in Galway, the group of companies operating under the banner of Thomas McDonogh and Sons Limited is now one of Ireland's foremost private companies, with a network of operations and offices throughout the island of Ireland.

It goes on to say:

Throughout its history, the company has played an active role in the local communities in which it is situated. This is particularly evident in Galway, where the company remains actively involved in local business (IBEC, Chamber of Commerce), the arts (Druid Theatre, Galway Arts Centre) and sport (Galway Races, Galway Golf Club).

“An active role”, they most certainly have played. Myself and my wife, Susan, both teach writing workshops at the above mentioned Galway Arts Centre. We may sometimes think we’re classless and clever and free but the truth is otherwise.

The House of Gold is quite beautifully written; the word dark does little justice to how dark it sometimes gets. At the end of Chapter Two, Ramon’s wife Nora is raped by a priest who is one of her husband’s key allies in the greasy till-shivering prayer coalition which rules the town, now the British have gone. Before the rape, in a scene so bizarre it has the absolute ring of truth, the priest shouts a prayer for the willpower not to rape her: “Lord have mercy on me. I am being swallowed in the abyss of lust. My will is weak. Take this apple of evil from my sight.” He then proceeds.

On one level this priest is just another dude with ‘issues’ that make him a serious danger to women.

On another, though, the way he treats sex as if it is something that’s both disgusting and all the woman’s fault is traditional Irish Catholic ideology at its worst. It is a great thing indeed that this near masterpiece is back on our bookshelves. Special credit is due to Jenny and Niall Farrell who played an important role in getting it there. The House of Gold should be force-fed to everyone who misses the good old days and thinks the Iona Institute have a point. It is the story of what life was like in many Irish towns, Galway being no exception, back when the Chamber of Commerce ruled in coalition with the type of rubbish now to be found in Youth Defence. A friend of mine says that Ireland then was like Stalinist Albania without the sex. The House of Gold makes it clear though, that whatever the reality for most of the population, the Catholic clergy always made sure that, by fair means or foul, they themselves did not go wanting in the carnal department.

The House Of Gold by Liam O’Flaherty is published by Nuascéalta (251pp €11.99).

Kevin Higgins is a Galway-based poet, essayist and reviewer, and satirist-in-residence at the alternative literature site The Bogman's Cannon,

Britain, The Taylor Report: Good Work? Fat Chance

This article was first published by the Labour Representation Committee

By Mick Brooks

A year ago Theresa May became Prime Minister. She uttered these words on the steps of Downing Street:
“If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.”

This soothing statement was followed by…precisely nothing. The following year has seen the Tories in office acting as the willing instrument of the bosses as they strive to squeeze more and more out of their workers.

Not only have working class living standards stagnated and fallen since the Tories took over, but there has been a massive increase in the insecurity of employment. This has been encroaching for decades but has jumped forward since the great Recession of 2008. The bosses have the whip hand, and they know it.

Never mind. Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair was commissioned by the government to review modern working practices. His report, ‘Good Work’, was published last week.

Taylor is an enthusiastic supporter of the present capitalist order. His report gushed the usual clichés. “Getting a job is the best way out of poverty.”...”Flexibility is a good thing.” All the same the review had to admit that many workers were getting too much of a good thing.

There are three main categories of workers who are super-exploited under the present employment system:
Workers on zero hours contracts (ZHCs). There are reckoned to be nearly a million toiling in the British economy on ZHCs. They have no security, no sign of when their next pay cheque will arrive and no chance of getting a mortgage.

The self-employed
. There are reckoned to be more than 4 million self-employed and the number is increasing rapidly. The numbers are as cloudy as the definition.  Though some are genuine independent contractors, most are bogus. Unscrupulous lawyers have been hired by the bosses to use the definition of self-employment to hack away at the rights of those who are really employees If you have to wear a uniform and clock in, are you really working for yourself? One advantage to the bosses is that they don’t have to pay sick pay or holiday pay to the ‘self-employed’. Bogus self-employment is booming in the burgeoning ‘gig economy’, where cab drivers or delivery cyclists in firms like Uber and CitySprint are deemed to be not working for a boss but under the direction of an electronic platform.

Agency workers
. Between ½  and 1½ million count as agency workers. If you have a contact with an agency, then you’re not directly employed by the firm where you work such as Sports Direct. So it’s a classic cop out. ‘Not me, gov, I’m not responsible for your wages and conditions’.

One small reform Taylor advocates is the abolition of the ‘Swedish derogation’ for agency workers. A loophole in the EU Agency Workers’ Directive allows employers to pay agency workers less than those directly employed for doing exactly the same job. The TUC has been fighting this scam for years. But that’s about it.

How does the Taylor Report try to sort out the jungle of different employment conditions? It soothingly relates, “The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation.” In other words labour and capital should co-operate. But this would be ‘co-operation’ between horse and rider.

. In the spirit of co-operation Taylor suggests that agency workers and those on ZHCs should be able to apply for permanent employment after a year. But employers need not accept the request. They could reject every request with impunity. There are no sanctions. Firms above a certain size should be made to publish how many requests they have received. So what?

Mike Ashley and other rotten employers are well aware that their profits come from the super-exploitation of workers at firms like Sports Direct. One reason they get away with it is that the law is well and truly on their side. Intimidation pays them handsomely.

. Taylor is a big fan of the flexibility that helps employers make more money at the expense of permanent insecurity for their workers. He sees this flexibility as affording workers freedom. Mohaan Biswas, a motorcycle courier at Deliveroo retorts, “They do exercise control over us. It’s an illusion of freedom.” To quote Janis Joplin, “Freedom is a word for nothing left to lose.”

Taylor suggests that workers can be paid less than the minimum wage at ‘off-peak’ times, while they pay more at peak times. Who decides when off-peak times are? The employer. We either have a minimum wage, a level below which it is accepted that workers cannot live decently, or we don’t. ZHCs, agency work and bogus self-employment are methods that bosses can pay way below the minimum wage.

. Regulation is necessary because workers are being super-exploited. One DPD driver commented, “This isn’t self-employment or employment – it’s a living hell. The government needs to bring in legislation.” Taylor is not advocating that, and the Tories will never introduce laws in the interests of the working class – we need a Corbyn-led Labour government for that.

The contract of employment
. One other problem is the definition of the employment contract in English law. There are three separate categories – workers, employees and the self-employed. Each has different rights and responsibilities and different time periods when these become legally enforceable.  How does Taylor propose to clarify the situation? He has added to the confusion by creating an additional category of ‘dependent contractor’, a definition which is as yet legally untested. 

The LRC’s position is quite clear. Workers, employees and the self-employed should all have the same rights, and they should be enforceable from day one. 

Employment Tribunals
. Not only is Taylor unrealistically expecting sweet reason from exploitative bosses. He makes no proposal to make existing rights enforceable. There has been a collapse in the number of cases referred to Employment Tribunals since 2013. In 2013 the Tories introduced stonking fees, such as £1,200 for a claim of unfair dismissal. No wonder Employment Tribunals no longer work. Effectively existing workers’ rights that exist on paper have been made unenforceable. Taylor does not even protest against this.

Clearly the Taylor Review is just window dressing. Wolters Kluwer concluded on behalf of the bosses, “Employers need not fear the Taylor Report.” It doesn’t deal with the real and pressing problems that workers face in the twenty-first century. In any case the Tory government will just kick it into the long grass.

The LRC’s Programme of Employment Rights for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government

• End austerity now. We need a massive public investment programme.
• Establish the rate for the job. Bring back sectoral collective bargaining.
• Abolish zero hours contracts. Give workers security. It can be done. The right wing government in New Zealand has already done it.
• Give the bogus self-employed the same rights as other workers.
• Protect agency workers.
• Abolish the anti-union laws. A charter of rights for trade unions.
• Cut back the bosses’ unfettered rights over companies. Enfranchise employees, consumers and environmental protection as stakeholders in the company.
• Bring back free access to Employment Tribunals.
• Make blacklisting a crime. Treat blacklisters as criminals.
• For a minimum wage of £10 per hour.
A fuller analysis of employment rights is available:: here

Capitalism – where Marx was right and wrong

by Michael Roberts

Jonathan Portes is a leading mainstream Keynesian economist. Formerly head of the British economic think-tank, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, he is now senior fellow and professor of Economics and Public Policy, Kings College, London.  Late last year Portes wrote a short book on Capitalism: 50 ideas you really need to know.

Some of the points in that book were repeated up in Portes’ article in the centre-left British journal, The New Statesman, entitled ‘What Marx got right’. This sounds promising from such an eminent mainstream ‘centre-left’ economist.  However, it soon becomes clear that what Marx got right was not much, and mostly he got things wrong – according to Portes.

Portes starts with defining a capitalist. “Are you a capitalist? The first question to ask is: do you own shares? Even if you don’t own any directly (about half of Americans do but the proportion is far lower in most other countries) you may have a pension that is at least partly invested in the stock market; or you’ll have savings in a bank.  So you have some financial wealth: that is, you own capital. Equally, you are probably also a worker, or are dependent directly or indirectly on a worker’s salary; and you’re a consumer. Unless you live in an autonomous, self-sufficient commune – very unusual – you are likely to be a full participant in the capitalist system.”

But for Marx, you are not a capitalist if you do not get your income predominantly from surplus-value (profit or dividends, interest and rent).  And only a very tiny percentage of people of working age do.  Indeed, Marxist economist Simon Mohun has shown that less than 2% of income earners in the US fit that bill.  Nearly 99% of us have to work (sell our labour power) for a living.  Even if some of us get some dividends, or rent, or interest from savings, we cannot live off that alone.  Yes, we workers ‘interact’ in the capitalist system but only through the exploitation of our value-creating (for capital) labour power.  We are not a ‘full participant’ in capitalism, except in that sense.
Portes goes on to tell us that capitalism is constrained by laws and the state on our behalf: “property rights are rarely unconstrained…. This web of rules and constraints, which both defines and restricts property rights, is characteristic of a complex economy and society.

However, the idea that the state just arbitrates between capitalists and between capitalists and workers to ensure a ‘level playing field’ is an illusion.  The state needs to control outright conflict between classes and individuals (over property rights), but its primary role is to deliver the needs of the ruling elite (“the executive committee of the ruling class” – Marx).  In the case of capitalism, that means the interests of capital and the owners of the means of production.

But what did Marx get right?, according to Portes.  “Marx had two fundamental insights. The first was the importance of economic forces in shaping human society. For Marx, it was the “mode of production” – how labour and capital were combined, and under what rules – that explained more or less everything about society, from politics to culture. So, as modes of production change, so too, does society.”

Yes, social relations are determined by the mode of production – although, for Marx, labour and ‘capital’ only exist as real social categories in the capitalist mode of production.  ‘Capital’ is not just the physical means of production or fixed assets, as Portes implies and as mainstream economics thinks. For Marx, it is a specific social relation that reveals the form and content of exploitation of labour under capitalism.

Portes goes on: “The second insight was the dynamic nature of capitalism in its own right. Marx understood that capitalism could not be static: given the pursuit of profit in a competitive economy, there would be constant pressure to increase the capital stock and improve productivity. This in turn would lead to labour-saving, or capital-intensive, technological change.”   Yes, Marx saw capitalism as a dynamic mode of production that would drive up the productivity of labour through a rise in the organic composition of capital, as never seen before (contrary to Piketty’s view that Marx expected productivity to fall to zero) 

But Portes significantly leaves out the other side of the coin of capitalism, namely that, while competition may drive capitalists to invest and boost the productivity of labour, there is a contradiction between the ‘dynamism’ of capitalism and private profit.  A rising organic composition of capital tends to lead to a fall in the profitability of capital. Capitalism is not a permanently ‘progressive mode of production’, as Portes implies, but is flawed and ultimately fails at the door of sustaining profitability.

Portes says that Marx’s critique of capitalism is based on the idea that the wages of labour would be driven to subsistence levels and this is where he wrong. “Though Marx was correct that competition would lead the owners of capital to invest in productivity-enhancing and labour-saving machinery, he was wrong that this would lead to wages being driven down to subsistence level, as had largely been the case under feudalism. Classical economics, which argued that new, higher-productivity jobs would emerge, and that workers would see their wages rise more or less in line with productivity, got this one right.”

Portes claims that “so far, it seems that increased productivity, increased wages and increased consumption go hand in hand, not only in individual countries but worldwide.”  Really? What about this gap in the advanced economies?

Actually Marx never had a subsistence theory of wages.  On the contrary, he criticised fiercely such a view, as expressed by ‘classical’ reactionary economist Thomas Malthus and socialist Ferdinand Lassalle.  Unfortunately, Portes accepts this common distortion of Marx’s view on the relation between wages and profits.

What Marx said was that wages cannot eat up all productivity, because profits must be made for capital.  But the degree of the distribution between profits and wages is not fixed by some ‘iron law’ but is determined by the class struggle between workers and capitalists.  That is a question of distribution of the value created in production.  But it is in the production of value that Marx finds the key contradiction of the capitalist mode of production: namely between the productivity of labour and the profitability of capital.

Portes says, because Marx got it wrong when he thought wages would be driven to subsistence levels, “in turn, Marx’s most important prediction – that an inevitable conflict between workers and capitalists would lead ultimately to the victory of the former and the end of capitalism – was wrong.”  He goes on to argue that “thanks to increased productivity, workers’ demands in most advanced capitalist economies could be satisfied without the system collapsing.”

Well, the system may not have ‘collapsed’, but it is subject to regular and recurring crises of production, and sometimes long periods of economic depression that sap the incomes, employment and future of billions.  And have “workers demands in most advanced capitalist economies” (Portes leaves out the billions in other economies, just as Keynes did) been “satisfied”?  What about the poverty levels in most advanced economies, what about employment conditions, housing, education and health?  What about huge and increasing levels of inequality of wealth and income in ‘most advanced capitalist economies’, let alone globally?

Portes admits that there was huge inequality “in the late 19th and early 20th centuries”.  However, “not only did this trend stop in the 20th century, it was sharply reversed … after the Second World War the welfare state redistributed income and wealth within the framework of a capitalist economy.”  But this ‘golden era’ of reduced inequality was a short-lived exception, something that the work of Thomas Piketty and others have shown.

Portes knows that after the 1970s inequality rose again but he accepts the argument that “the chief story of the past quarter-century has been the rise of the “middle class”: people in emerging economies who have incomes of up to $5,000 a year.”  Actually, the reduced level of ‘global inequality’ between countries and between income groups is down solely to ending of poverty for 600m people in China.  Exclude China and global inequality of wealth and income is no better, if not worse, than 50 years ago.  Capitalism has not been a success here.

Portes recognises the rise of China and its phenomenal growth.  His explanation for this appears to be some idea of ‘mixed economy’ capitalism where the state plays a role in constraining unregulated capital. “Access to capital still remains largely under state control. Moreover, though its programme is not exactly “Keynesian”, China has used all the tools of macroeconomic management to keep growth high and relatively stable.”  Portes notes that “China is still far from a “normal” capitalist economy.”

For Portes, what is wrong with capitalism is not its failure to eliminate poverty or inequality or meet the basic needs of billions in peace and security, as Marx argued.  No, it is excessive consumption. “Although we are at least twice as rich as we were half a century ago, the urge to consume more seems no less strong…. we strive to “keep up with the Joneses”. But excessive or endemic ‘consumerism’ is not an issue for the billions in the world or even millions in the UK, Europe or the US – it’s the opposite: the lack of consumption, including ‘social goods’ (public services, health, education, pensions, social care etc).

Portes does recognise that capitalism is not harmoniously dynamic and that it has crises.  However, apparently all that is necessary is to regulate the financial sector properly and all will be well. He “would prefer a more wholesale approach to reining in the financial system; this would have gained the approval of Keynes, who thought that while finance was necessary, its role in capitalism should be strictly limited.”  But what if “there is a more fundamental problem: that recurrent crises are baked into the system?”  Then we need to “make sure that we have better contingency plans next time round.”

But is the explanation of crises under capitalism that go back 150 years or more to be found in the lack of regulation of finance?  Marx had more to say on this with his law of profitability and the role of fictitious capital.  And if Marx was right, ‘better contingency plans’ to ‘regulate’ finance will not be (and have not been) enough to avoid more slumps.

Portes finishes by saying that “There is no viable economic alternative to capitalism at the moment but that does not mean one won’t emerge.”  But he is vague: “The defining characteristic of the economy and society will be how that is produced, owned and commanded: by the state, by individuals, by corporations, or in some way as yet undefined.”  Indeed “ just as it wasn’t the “free market” or individual capitalists who freed the slaves, gave votes to women and created the welfare state, it will be the collective efforts of us all that will enable humanity to turn economic advances into social progress.

Portes is implying the need for socialism, namely a collectively-owned and democratically-run economy of super-abundance that eventually ends the ‘economic question’ itself.  That was Marx’s vision too – but it would only be possible by the ending of the capitalist mode of production, not by ‘regulating’ it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

US support for Zionist Apartheid Must Stop

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

As I watched this movie, I think about Apartheid South Africa. This is the Zionist's dream, Israeli Apartheid. Whenever one watches movies about the racism and inhuman treatment of Palestinians, one should consider that much of the money for this venture comes from the US. It comes from individuals who invest in this project, what amounts to a European colonial settler state. Notice how many Israeli's have US, British or South African accents. Both left and right wing US Zionists are supporters, people like Michael Bloomberg and Jared Kushner, Trump's son in law who invests in the settlements.  The US taxpayer contributes billions of dollars  as Israel is an important foothold in the region for US imperialism and the continued looting of the region's natural resources. One only has to think about the fact that the two most important allies and proxies of US imperialism in the region are two of the most ruthlessly efficient barbaric states, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The settlers that are the front line of the land grab are generally the most right wing religious zealots whose theft of the land rests in the absurd claim that god gave it to them. The basis for this Apartheid are sections of obscure tracts written eons ago and translated many times by the scribes of various ruling classes, written by people who believed the earth to be flat no doubt.

In Genesis 14 the unknown author records that this supernatural being that created the earth and the cosmos said to Abram (later to become Abraham by god's will), "Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are,  northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever." and shortly after, again, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great , the river Euphrates". 

The proof that this god said this is shown by the fact that the author put the words within quotation marks. He heard god say it. It's there for all to read. It had to be a "he", it's in the rules.

I am not sure those of us living in the United States whose ancestors came as recent immigrants, would apply this logic were the indigenous population to demand we leave out homes for the same reason. Fortunately for us, the Native Americans do not have the political, economic or military power to execute such a plan.

Jews have always lived in this part of the world and those Jewish communities, Arab, Mizrahi, Sephardic have every right to be there. The ruling class in Israel is dominated by European Jews, they have no real cultural connection to the Middle East other than as settlers. Arab and African Jews are discriminated against as wellMore on this here. The present state and its polices is a colonial settler venture aimed at driving the indigenous non Jewish population from the region. Some co-workers used to say to me that Jews and Muslims have been at each others throats for centuries, fighting for eons. They soak up the pro-zionist US state department propaganda. Jews and Muslims have lived in this region for centuries in relative harmony when compared to Europe. It was Christian Europe that massacred the Jewish people, that sent them by the millions to their deaths in gas chambers, not Palestinian Muslims.

In my personal view I do not see any solution to this situation on the basis of capitalism, no more than Northern Ireland, or any of the catastrophic crises that are engulfing humanity.  Those Jews that think their cultural and religious traditions are best protected by this Apartheid regime are mistaken. The Christian Zionists in the US and around the world have no time for Jews. Those that visit Israel believe that their god is coming and those Jews that don't submit to that god will rot in hell, not a healthy relationship by any means. And relying on the US ruling class, overwhelmingly gentile and anti-Semitic, after all, Jews are their competitors, is a tenuous relationship at least.

Threatened by a movement of the US working class in response to the continued attacks on our material existence, the US bourgeois would whip up anti-Semitism in a minute. Jews are a small percentage of the US population, relying on the Gentile bourgeois could end up a very costly mistake.

Zionism has meant a tragedy for the Palestinian people, but also for Jews. It is a black mark on centuries of revolutionary Jewish history.

I came across this video from the US Jewish website Mondoweiss. It was contained in the story: Young survivors of Gaza beach slaughter three years ago ‘lost their minds’

See: The US and Israel: ‘An integrated political system’