Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And what does Richard Trumka have to say about Ferguson?

These people are not our friends.
Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

I just have to say something about this.

I just went to the AFL-CIO's website at AFLCIO.org to see what Richard Trumka, the head of the 12 million member workers' organization has to say about the situation in Ferguson Missouri.  I checked under issues and what did I find? Nothing. 

So I went to my former union's webpage, Afscme and the same thing, not a word.   A colleague who is down in Ferguson reported that he asked one union member what the unions were doing there and the guy said that his leadership said that it "wasn't our fight".

Well, he's right about that, it isn't the union leadership's fight.  In fact, no fight that includes defending the rights, wages and benefits of working people is their fight.  If they can't defend these things they sure won't speak up when workers get shot by the cops. They are working cap in hand with the bosses.  Why would they get involved in such a struggle? It would mean mobilizing members and that's a terrifying thought. It would increase the profile of the trade union movement among workers and workers of color in particular and that too is scary. It would offend their friends in the Democratic Party and that is the worst of all possible worlds.

Leaders of locals whether as individuals or through and with the support of the rank and file of our unions should be pressuring the leadership to act. They should demand that they condemn the activity and then call on the Internationals and the AFL-CIO to call an emergency press conference where they publicly condemn the police and the main political parties for not intervening. At the same time they should call for an emergency meeting of the AFL-CIO and the heads of all the national unions to prepare and organize mass rallies and protests throughout the country against the police brutality and militarization of our communities and this can be linked with the demand for an end to austerity and the capitalist offensive.  This can be done through the AFL-CIO central labor bodies and the district and regional councils of the national unions and can be successful through a series of coordinated work stoppages throughout the country.

We know the labor hierarchy will not continue their policy of taking no action at all but that doesn't mean the ranks of labor should pressure them to do so.  We cannot continue to do nothing any longer, we are faced with a struggle on two fronts.  One is against the bosses and the other against our own leadership. We cannot avoid this political struggle with them if we want to halt the decline further and we are obligated not only to defend what was won for us but to protect what we have and build on it for future workers and their families.

Where locals can they should help organize and support rallies in their local communities whether the leadership at the national level acts or not. The union hierarchy should be condemned by every trade unionist and local union body for their shameful silence. What is happening in Ferguson Missouri will effect all of us, in fact it already has in the form of increased attacks on union rights and the elimination of benefits that took decades and great sacrifice to win.

It is time to put an end to this nonsense.

Ferguson, Oakland ship blockade and the myth of peacefiul protest.

Oakland CA: Successful mass picket of Israeli ship
 "You can't have capitalism without racism." 
Malcom X

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was thinking about this term "Peaceful protesters". What is a peaceful protest?  I'll answer my own question.  A peaceful protest is one that does not actually respond with tactics that will achieve the stated goals in the event the state, corporation, workplace or entity being opposed chooses to enforce its will.

Here in Oakland CA, we have had a very successful attempt to prevent an Israeli ship from docking at the port.  The dockers, members of the ILWU have refused to cross the community picket lines organized by various groups including the Transport Workers' Solidarity Committee whose calls for action have been up on this blog.

The Israeli ship as recently as this morning (Monday Aug. 19th.) is still in California waters and its cargo still on board.  I was reading yesterday that the police said that they would not interfere with the protest as long as it was peaceful.

I am not in anyway taking credit from the picket and the energy and dedication of those who arrived every day, but let's be clear: the important issue here is that the ILWU members never crossed. In other words, labor was withheld for whatever reason.

A strike is not a peaceful protest from the bosses' point of view because it hurts profits, it interferes with the labor process, a process they rightly control according to the laws of society.  From their point of view workers have collectively agreed to withdraw their labor power after agreeing to sell it.  As we all know, when we do this, the bosses will resort to other methods under their control to force workers to sell our labor power.  They will use the courts, the police and the military if need be. The moneylender will wage a war against us as owners of our mortgage or our car loan etc.  The landlord will demand their rent payment.  If a contract is up, they will use some other legalistic reason to justify their actions, public safety for example. And what is more harmful to public safety than a disruption in economic activity.  Of course, it is that section of the public whose economic interests depend on profits that they are talking about.  Capital hates obstacles.

Were the port bosses and their colleagues in retail, manufacturing and other areas of commerce to have one of their judges issue an injunction to force the ILWU members to work and declare the picket illegal for whatever reason, the cops would use violence and the picket action  would suddenly become a non-peaceful protest if it wasn't withdrawn.

In Ferguson, as they have done consistently since the WTO events in Seattle in 1999 and the global protests that followed, the authorities have attempted to impose "protest zones" to avoid the embarrassment of the nation and the rest of the world seeing the violence US capitalism has waged and is still waging against its own people, the victims of state repression. These are to ensure that the rights of capital and the actions of its state representatives are not impeded and  allow people to let off some steam, in actuality, "letting off some steam zones".

In the case of Ferguson, we should not underestimate the damage these scenes inflict on the phony image of US society the capitalist controlled media shows to the world with the willing cooperation of Hollywood. They learned from their slaughter in Vietnam that images of Vietnamese being burnt to a crisp from Napalm the US dropped on them being shown on prime time TV moved the US public. I remember first reading Negroes With Guns by Robert F Williams and learning of the famous Kissing Case, a black child about to be convicted of a crime for a friendly kiss on the face of a white girl, a child he knew as his mother worked for her mother. This would not have come out were it not for the European press taking it up and undermining the phony image the US media fed the global public.

US labor history is peppered with violence.  But workers, the oppressed, are the victims of real violence, organized state violence.  To take someones home away is violence.  To take a person's job away is violence as it deprives them and their children of food and shelter. When there is no organized leadership and desperation becomes so intense, mass action can have violent aspects to it but it is always a response to state terror in one form or another and it is always a minority and sometimes agent provocateurs as scenes of people wildly striking out deters those sympathetic to the cause from joining them in solidarity.

In Ferguson it is not simply about the assassination of one teenager no more than the Los Angeles riots were about Rodney king.  It is about harassment and bullying and disrespect on a daily basis. It is about sub standard housing, slum lords and the lack of opportunity. It is about no health care and education that fails workers and the poorest among us.  It is about a system that perpetuates violence on its citizens day in day out in all forms.  It is about racism and inequality based on the color of ones skin, one's gender, religion or other aspects of humanity. I remember a guy on meeting me telling me that in Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants don't get along; it's a religious affair. "No it isn't" I replied."  Most Catholics wouldn't have a clue about the theological differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine  But the Catholics knew they had the worst housing, were barred from the best jobs, were treated differently by the cops, were locked out of political power and were the recipients of the most extreme violence when they protested and at times as in all such cases, it may be expressed as anti-Protestant, it's their religion that is the problem but that is not the case and we know it. You see, protests must not threaten the source of one's oppression with the intention of removing it. You'll see what real violence is then.

Without a leadership that can draw together all the forces for change, all the victims of class society, a movement as it arises can and will be confused and at times violent as the state uses tactics to divide it and from its own immaturity. The black cop that the state brought in after the initial violence in Ferguson and who went around hugging people wants more black cops as the solution; but the cops as an arm of the sate are the problem and more black ones won't alter that. The black capitalists want more opportunity for black businesses.  But black capitalism isn't the answer either as capitalism is the problem.  The Irish capitalist class, the Indian capitalist class, the African capitalist class, they will always betray workers. Read James Connolly's Labor in Irish History and for an explanation as to why,  Leon Trotsky's The Permanent Revolution.

We must demand the demilitarization of the police as a start.  As we wrote earlier, get the tanks and Humvees and other military machinery out of our communities. Workers of all communities must demand what we demand what need not what is acceptable to capital:

Massive public investment on housing, health care, transportation and infrastructure spending must be demanded. Jobs for all.

The immediate hiring of hundreds of thousands of teachers and investment in public schools must be a priority as well as the control of public education being in the hands of those that use it, students, parents the communities.

As for housing and the skilled labor necessary to re-build our communities, the building trade unions can set up hiring halls and apprentice schools in the communities that can train and provide labor.  Youth and workers can be taken in on a first come first served basis. How our communities are built, the planning of them must be taken out of the hands of developers, speculators and their politicians whose sole interest is profits.

The police is a social force whose purpose is to protect the rich, the corporations and the capitalist system.  They are sworn to defend the law and the laws are written by the politicians of the two dominant capitalist parties. The laws, like the political parties that enact them, are not devoid of class content.

For policing our communities we can have labor/community committees of public safety.  These committees would have to be composed of elected representatives who are from the community and who are wage earners, unionized and unorganized workers who work in the community as well as representatives of small community businesses.  Members of these committees of public safety would be elected by the community and all excepting worker representatives who live outside it should be residents. Those who are given the task of protecting our communities and dealing with safety directly must live in the community.

The mass incarceration of youth, especially youth of color as a percentage of their population is a product of a policing and justice system that are institutions of capitalism therefore inherently racist and anti-worker. Racism and sexism are institutionally built in to the capitalist system and cannot be eliminated without eliminating the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism is a competitive system that producers winners and losers, more of the latter than the former. It will never resolve social and environmental crises.

These necessities for a decent life can be paid for by ending all predatory wars and occupations and taxing corporations and the rich.  Attempts by the 1% to shift production or export capital (money) must be met by taking in to collective ownership the banks, financial industry and other means that are necessary to maintain a decent life for all.

The most important aspect of demanding and fighting for what we need regardless of how "unrealistic" the spokesperson's of capital  claim our needs are, the struggle for them raises our consciousness, it draws others in to the movement and no matter what level of achievement we reach, it is but one battle in the war for genuine freedom and control over our own lives. In the course of the struggle, the movement will find political expression, will put forward political candidates as an alternative to those in the two Wall Street parties; a political party of all workers will arise out of such a movement.

I commented a few days ago on FB I commented on the young guy interviewed after the looting and such in Ferguson. He said it was what was supposed to happen although he meant a general social upheaval, as it halted economic activity, it stopped the money flowing.  He was right, this is all they listen to, it is our strongest weapon as workers and we must use it.

Added note: these ideas are my thoughts about resolutions of some social issues like the police for  example. I am convinced we cannot reform them, no more than we can make capitalism friendly--it has to go.  This doesn't mean we don't struggle to change things as it is through struggle we learn.  The bst solutions are collective ones as we learn from each others experiences as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson erupts again. Workers, youth, it's time to fight back

Ferguson Missouri: Land of the free
From John Reimann in Ferguson. *

First I should say this: The most impressive thing about what is happening here is again the huge number of young people who are coming out and really taking the lead. Their leadership is in ways that old timers like me never would have thought of, and the main thing is in revving up and keeping the spirit going. People gather in the lot of the QT that was burned to the ground, but they also line the street. From time to time, a young person will march up and down the street leading chants. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is the main one, but “No justice, no peace!” is also changed.

Then there are the carloads of young people slowly driving up and down the street blowing their horns,, hanging out the doors and windows, hands raised…
It all really looks like a new movement being born.

This afternoon there was a huge rally at a church a couple of miles away from the main gathering point for the protest.  The big names spoke there – Al Sharpton, local Democrats, etc. The way it was set up, and given that the cops block off the main street where the protest is, even before it was over it was impossible to drive back to the protest and difficult to drive anywhere near it.
Could it be that that was the plan – to try to keep people off the street?

If it was, it didn’t work very well, because by nightfall the crowd was at least twice the size of Saturday night. Up and down the street we marched. Until suddenly the people at the front came running back. The cops had shot off tear gas. As far as I could see, this was totally unprovoked, as the mood was angry, yes, but also festive and there was absolutely no vandalism or anything like that.
There was massive confusion, but also order in the confusion.

I would like to write more and also post photos and video, but it’s late here and it’s been a long day. I will have a lot of photos and video up on a day or two, so to all of those I met in Ferguson: Please check back later.

Ferguson: Stop the hugging. Get rid of the military vehicles and snipers.

by Sean O' Torrain

The black revolt of the 1960's forced the US bourgeois to make some concessions. It also saw them move to build up a new layer of black middle class leadership to keep the black masses in place. This had dangers. See when Jackson ran to the left and got many votes. But they pulled him back into line. But from what I read about Ferguson this black leadership they built, the black politicians who have moved in, the black cop they have put in charge are increasingly finding it hard to keep control. Their strategy of building a middle class black leadership is coming under strain. Given the lack of alternative unified more combative even revolutionary leadership on the ground they will probably get control again. But  it is a sign of things to come when we will see this new black leadership they put in after the 1960's fragment and when we will see the state apparatus crack and when we will see many black and other sections of this refuse to take their orders. 

I feel it is vital we say something about military vehicles and snipers and full body armored state machine. We need to have transitional demands in relation to these. Remove all military vehicles and put them under the control of elected committees of working people. Remove all sniper and heavy weaponry from the cops. For elected committees of working people and youth to oversee trouble and violence in all areas. 

Are these demands okay? I do not know. I am not in Ferguson.  But what I do know is that a black cop hugging protesters has to be pointed out for what it is - a con job. He and the system has to be put on the spot where are the military vehicles and snipers and cop murderers and cops who discriminate against black people, what are the plans for these. No more hugging.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The two assassinations in Ferguson Missouri

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We have in Ferguson Missouri two assassinations.  The first was the actual killing itself.  It is clear that Michael Brown was executed as he had his hands up in the air.  He had already been shot in the back according to more than once witness.  As the cop approached him, he shot him at least another five times until Brown fell to the ground. Tiffany Mitchell told reporters that she saw the cop and Brown arm wrestling through the cop car window until a shot rang out and Brown took off. She told the KMOV TV:
“After the shot, the kid just breaks away. The cop follows him, kept shooting, the kid’s body jerked as if he was hit. After his body jerked he turns around, puts his hands up, and the cop continues to walk up on him and continues to shoot until he goes all the way down,” 

We also know that Brown was left to die in the street, his body lying there another three hours or so.  He surely would have bled to death were there any chance of him living at all. An hour after the shooting, a local Hip Hop artist who goes by the name Thee Pharoah and who witnessed the shooting outside his window, tweeted:

The response to the shooting was national and indeed international as Palestinians also sent messages of support.  But there were also protests in Chicago, NYC, Oakland CA and across the country. 

In response, we now have the second assassination, the character assassination aimed at swaying public support with regard to the first assassination that ended Brown’s life.  The cops released a video of a man they claim was Michael Brown robbing a liquor store not long before being shot.  

This should be seen as what it is, a diversionary tactic, an attempt to discredit Brown and justify the shooting. We are supposed to conclude that the cop's life was in danger.  Here in the US the cops have a license to kill if they feel their life is in danger, not disable, but kill, and kill they do without recrimination. Michael Brown was assassinated, we do not care what he did prior to his murder. He was assassinated and left to die in the presence of authorities whose actions might have saved him.

Here is a picture Rapper, Thee Pharoah took of the scene shortly after the shooting
The rapper tweeted again:

Right after the Brown shooting, a mentally challenged 19 year old black girl was shot and killed here in San Jose CA. She was waving what turned out to be a drill in her left hand.  The cops warned her, told her to drop it from behind their cars etc.  But she refused and was shot. 

I have to ask myself: "How come a police sniper can’t shoot someone in the leg?"  She was obviously mentally impaired. But what am I thinking of? The US executes children and the mentally impaired.   Sure there may be a time when such choices are limited, but not very often in the case of the police.  In most cases they have time to decide not to kill but to disable, they shot 40 times at Amadou Diallo who was sat on his porch with his cell phone in his hand.. The reason they don’t is that they are encouraged to shoot to kill and legally allowed do so based on their personal feelings about the situation. And black lives, especially young black, working class  males are not valued much here in the land of the free. The object of the activity is to warn people to keep their mouths shut and accept what society dishes out without objection.

I commented a few days ago about my involvement in the Jerrold Hall case many years ago.  The young unarmed black man shot in the back of the head by a transit cop while walking away from him.  The bosses' media here in the Bay Area used the same tactics to discredit Hall, pointing out that he stole a Walkman, and punched one kid, maybe slapped his girlfriend around etc.   This is their MO and we must reject it, we must recognize it for what it is.

While the shift change back in Ferguson, a black cop for a white one, the highway Patrol in place of Ferguson cops, was partly due to the protests erupting around the country, an effort to contain them before they get out of hand, we must also recognize that while poor communities and communities of color are the primary victims of the increasingly militarized police force, no workers will be exempt as the US capitalist class is driven by their system to put the US working class on rations. The armored vehicles and AK47's will increasingly be used to drive back the US working class as it responds to the capitalist offensive.  We commented on this in an earlier blog.

There is another point I must stress here.  Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are down in Ferguson lending their support.   These are not two of my favorable politicians by any means, and if the protests spread and the issues become more general and politicized as other groups would link up with it, it can be certain that politicians like these will be used to temper the movement, divert any move toward class independence and working class unity in to the Democratic Party politically and ensure the system is stable.  Jackson played this role after black folks practically shut down the NYC subway system after Yosef hawkins was murdered or it might have been the shooting of Amadou Diallo, but the readers gets my gist I am sure. We must work within the system, is the message.

I hear some white folks announce their displeasure at Sharpton.  Some of this is undoubtedly racially motivated.  But a black politician that refused to condemn these murders would not fare well.  The point I want to make though, nothing new here for this writer, is the shameful absence, the deafening silence, of the heads of organized Labor in the US.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka should be in Ferguson. So should all the top figures, heads of the International Unions like Afscme, to which I belonged.  They should be publicly condemning the racist police force and the racist justice system here in the US that has some 2.4 million workers incarcerated, a huge percentage of them people of color. They should link these attacks to the assault on the working class in general. They are a disgrace, they must be called out for their cowardice in the face of this increasingly brutal capitalist offensive against against US workers, especially the poorest among us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is there a capitalist solution to anything?

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. Samuel Johnson

I wanted to add further comment to the comments with yesterday's video of Norman Finkelstein talking about the Irsrael/Palestine situation and the weakness of the BDS campaign.  I thought it better not to add further length and content  to that so here are further thoughts. I am, also just thinking out loud a bit.

I think Professor Finkelstein laid out the situation there perfectly and touched on what a solution might be which would mean agreement from both camps.  His criticism of the BDS campaign was spot on, that it doesn't have an acceptable position to the Israeli's. It has a position that is hidden because they understand it is not a viable one, one that can lead to a genuine solution.

I was thinking about this more because even if we were in agreement on the solution, can this solution be found within the framework of capitalism?  I cannot see it. I do not believe as the professor seems to imply, that Northern Ireland is a done deal by any means.

Professor Finkelstein talks of Palestinian power lying in the Palestinian people and their mobilization, and conscious involvement in the struggle. But for the Palestinian people to reach that point the present leaders need to have this approach but they do not.  That's why the description reminded me of the trade union hierarchy who are in a similar position, mobilizing their members has consequences that would likely mean them losing power. There would have to be a shift in the composition and ideology of the leadership, a political struggle taking place initiated by the pressure from below perhaps.

But even if the mobilization of this power took place surely it would not be able to achieve its goal within the framework of capitalism.  Just in a nutshell it seems to me that the radicalizing of the Palestinian masses would be an inevitable result of mobilization, would not only be opposed by the present leadership but also by regimes throughout the Arab world as well as Iran.  Such a development would draw in the Arab working class which has tremendous potential power as we have seen over the past period and threaten the rule of the Arab ruling class that is subservient to western capitalism..

The Mullahs (contrary to what many American workers think, Iranians are not Arabs) would find themselves on the side of their dreaded enemies, Cheney and co.  The Zionist regime is obviously in the opposite camp as the target of this mass movement.  Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, all these nation states will be affected.  The Palestinians want a state as well.  It's as clear as a bell that we have a nation state in formation there or struggling to develop.

This whole scenario would be met with the most fierce resistance from the US and western interests in league with their Zionist allies.  The US working class would not be unaffected either.    The rising working class offensive, inside Israel/Palestine and without, would also draw certain conclusions would it not; that protest and pressure on the various regimes has its limits.

So in the course of this struggle taking place and new leaders emerging they would be confronted with a larger problem, state power and the system itself, capitalism's failure would be taken up and socialist traditions would re-emerge once more. This is where a federation of socialist states arises as the alternative.

A friend said to me the other day that the UN should be the peacekeeping force, should help the sides develop a healthy relationship and stuff like that. But the UN is a capitalist club, an organization of global capitalism dominated by major capitalist powers. The UN as a club of capitalist nation states cannot play this role.  Capitalism is a competitive system, not an harmonious or egalitarian one, it is a state of permanent war and at times the talking ceases and the war shifts from the political to the military plane. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed for this reason.  Ireland, the Congo and India were colonized for this reason, the struggle for markets and the ownership and control of the world's wealth, its raw materials. British colonialism never ruled Ireland because it hated the Irish race, it never invaded Africa because they didn't like black people.

This is why socialists argue for international working class solidarity and class unity as opposed to national unity or unity based on national or racial origin. Go to your local Chinatown and see how Chinese bosses exploit poor Chinese immigrant. Where's the unity there?  This does not mean that we don't recognize racism and sexism as special oppressions, an added burden other workers have to bare.

This is why throughout the Arab spring, the Israel/Palestine conflict or more recently the Ukraine, socialists call for unity between the working classes of both camps and the linking of the workers organizations. We argue for workers councils in the workplaces and in our communities and armed worker's militias to protect and defend our democratic gains from reactionary racist and fascist forces that capitalism resorts to when faced with the working class on the move.  We call for our own political parties and for public ownership, management and control of the sectors of the  capitalist economy that are crucial to human needs and survival.

It is my view that when workers begin to go on the offensive, we tend to try to overcome these divide and rule barriers that the capitalist class resort to with a vengeance; try telling sexist or racist jokes on a picket line.  They are not well received, class consciousness is further to the fore and workers recognize they are divisive and against our self interest. This is not necessarily a permanent state of affairs but it reflects a higher consciousness and one that we must help develop.

We see the Palestinian union federation calling for international actions. There have been demonstrations throughout the world in support of the Palestinians. There have been major clashes in Israel between leftists and right wing, even fascist elements.  Gazans have reached out to the Ferguson community and domestically there have been protests all over the US in support of this community's battle with the beefed up police apparatus.  We, or they, should not be fooled by the recent resorting to the carrot as opposed to the stick with the Highway Patrol chief, a black man, walking along with protestors and supporting their right to protest; the same folks are in charge.  They are simply responding to what they saw as a situation developing that might get out of their control.

These are some thoughts on what has to be done, what will work and what won't.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed in this world.  The Zionists are some nasty characters. It can't be ruled out that they wouldn't nuke Iran or just bombing them would be a catastrophe.  A terrorist group could get a hold of nuclear weapons and start a major global crisis.  US capitalism, the most violent of all of them, could make a major mistake as it loses its global influence. It too could use nuclear weapons; they have before. They would use them on their own people if they had to.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once said we have only one choice, Socialism or Barbarism. But we have moved beyond this, it is socialism or the end of life as we know it.

Lastly, this is not a treatise, it is just thoughts from one socialist worker to others, socialists or otherwise. I welcome any comments or constructive criticism that can broaden our understanding of what we must do to literally save the planet. I have abandoned the idea long ago that any individual or group of individuals have all the answers or that one leader knows all. I believe Marx offered the best analysis of why society changes and how conscious humanity can influence that change.  But Marxism is not a dogma, just a way of looking at the world that this blogger believes comes the closest to objective reality.

World Economy: The myth of the return to normal

by Michael Roberts

The latest economic data for the main capitalist economies is not encouraging for the optimists that the world economy is set to resume normal service. Last week, we had the first estimate for US GDP for the period April to June (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/the-risk-of-another-1937/ ). The US economy has been the better-performing top economy over the last few years. But even here, real GDP growth was just 2% yoy, well below the long-term average since 1946 of 3.3% a year.

The recovery has been weak.  In the five years after the Great Depression troughed in 1933, US nominal GDP (that’s before inflation is deducted) rose 52%. In the five years since the end of the Great Recession in mid-2009, US nominal GDP has risen only 18%.  The gap between US nominal GDP and where it would have been without the Great Recession remains wide – and even getting wider.
US nominal GDP
Indeed, US economic growth appears to be in secular decline. In the 1980s and 1990s, the US economy generated nearly 40 quarters where GDP was 4% or higher on an annualised quarter or quarter basis (not yoy). But there have been just seven of these “hypergrowth” quarters since 2000, if you include the last quarter. But that will be revised down when the huge rise in stockpiles of goods that were included in the 4% quarterly figure are reduced. So US real GDP growth was less than 2% yoy last quarter.  And yesterday, figures for American spending in shops came out and they were not pretty either. Retail sales were flat in July and the yoy rate slowed from 4.3% in June to 3.7% in July.
Things are far worse elsewhere. The data from the Eurozone are appalling. Industrial production has been shrinking for some time, down 1.1% in May over April and another 0.3% down in June over May. Today, the figures for real GDP growth for April to June came out – and there was little or no growth. The French economy was flat for the whole of the first half of 2014, while business investment fell 0.8% in the latest quarter. The French government has accordingly reduced its previously optimistic forecast for real GDP growth of 1.1% for this year to 0.5%. France may be lucky to see even that.

Even more worrying, the key economy in the area, Germany, contracted in the second quarter, falling 0.2% from April to June. If you put this together with a contraction in Italy already reported and growth of just 0.5-0.6% in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal and yet another contraction in Greece, the whole Eurozone area failed to grow at all in the last quarter and rose just 0.7% over the last 12 months.

Japan too is a very poor shape, refuting the hopes and talk that Abenomics could turn the Japanese economy around (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/abenomics-raises-profitability-and-misery/). The huge hike in sales tax imposed by the Abe government in April, brought in to try and reduce the Japanese government’s large budget deficits and debt, has led to a collapse in consumer spending much greater than expected. In Q2’14, Japan’s GDP fell at an annualised rate of 6.8%, the biggest fall since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Japanese households cut their spending by 18.7% on an annualised basis! And businesses cut investment by 9.7% annualised. Indeed, investment in new machinery is down 3% from this time last year. Housing investment fell by 35%! And this GDP figure included a 4% rise in the stockpile of goods. If this is excluded, then the contraction was even worse.
Japan GDP
Now supposedly, the UK economy is the shining star in these clouds of doom elsewhere. I have had already cast some doubt about the nature and sustainability of the apparent pick-up in economic growth in the British economy (see my posts, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/uk-cost-of-living-crisis-continues/ and

At his press conference at the Bank of England yesterday on the release of the BoE’s quarterly inflation report, our overpaid governor Mark Carney raised his growth forecast for 2014 from 3.4% to 3.5%. A positive boom! But even the BoE recognised that this could be a one-off. Its own forecast for growth in future years is lower.  Carney claimed that the ‘recovery was broad-based’, but this is difficult to justify, when we see that GDP per person is still well below the 2007 peak, that manufacturing output is even further down and above all, average real wages continue to decline.

Indeed, nominal pay for employees (that’s before the impact of inflation and taxes) fell in the period April to June by 0.2% (black line in graph below). And yet inflation is rising by 1.9% yoy (yellow line in graph below). So wages are being outstripped by prices in the shops, in utilities and other daily expenses. Average real incomes have been falling since the Great Recession and there is little sign of any ‘recovery’ for most British households. Indeed, the Bank of England actually reduced its forecast for wage growth this year to just 1.25% from a previous 2.5%. Real wages will continue to fall.
UK real wages
On the other hand the BoE expects the official unemployment rate to fall further towards 5.5%, but this rate would be still higher than before the Great Recession – that will be the new normal for jobs in the UK.
UK unemployment
In previous posts, I have discussed why the UK unemployment has fallen even though economic growth has been weak since the Great Recession. But the key consequence of this has been the abysmal state of productivity per worker in the UK, which remains well below pre-crisis levels. More people in Britain have been getting jobs, but nearly half of these are in self-employment where incomes are generally lower than in full-time employment and where productivity (value per worker) is poor, even though many self-employed work long hours 9for little reward). Large corporations are flush with cash but unwilling to invest in new technology or R&D that could boost productivity.
UK productivity
Flat productivity growth plus even employment growth of 1% a year (very strong, but achieved in the six years before the Great Recession), means long-term real GDP growth of just 1% a year – and that’s assuming no new recessions or slumps. No return to normal there.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ferguson Missouri: The Big Picture

by Sean O' Torrain

There are a number of factors involved in the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Miss. We who run this blog have been explaining for years now that US capitalism is in a new period. That it cannot any longer afford guns and butter. That is it cannot afford its close to 200 bases abroad and at the same time keep its own working class at home at the standard to which it has become accustomed and expects. So they have decided to cut the butter. That is the living standards of its own working class. Cheney one of the major figures in the most vicious section of the the US ruling class has openly said that food stamps, social security, health spending must all be cut and what is saved must go to military spending. This is the period we are living through. The cutting of the butter and the maintaining of the war machine.

The US ruling class know that the US working class will not accept being put on rations without a fight. We already have had some sparks of storm lightning which show what will happen. Over a decade ago we had 40,000 workers and youth in street fighting against the cops at the WTO conference in Seattle. More recently we have had the Occupy Movement. And in the recent period we have had the beginnings of a movement to increase low wages. And we have also had the movements against police brutality and racism and sexism. The US ruling class is being warned, and it knows, that the US working class will not accept being pushed into poverty again, losing all they won in the 1930's and 1960's without a major fight.

Knowing this they have consciously prepared. This is what is shown in the streets of Ferguson. Miss. It was shown also in the Occupy Movement. That is that the US ruling class have equipped its cops and National Guard with full body armor. The cops that were on the streets in Ferguson were equipped with sniper rifles and heavy weaponry and full body armor. They were an invading occupying force. The Pentagon has given the country's cities huge armored vehicles which were formerly used in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are supplied free of charge to the cities, the cities only have to maintain them. US capitalism is digging in to take on its own working class.

This weaponry and strategy is being tested at this stage mostly on the large poverty stricken areas with high minority populations. This is what we see in Ferguson. Racism is being used to try and confuse the white working class as to the nature of the problem with which they are faced. But white workers should not be fooled. US capitalism cannot get by unless it drives the white working class into poverty also. These full body armored cops and the huge army vehicles will be headed for the suburbs also. White and Latino and workers of all ethnic backgrounds must take their stand in support of the mainly black workers in Ferguson and in all the other areas where black workers and youth are being murdered in the streets.

But all is not lost. The big heavy battalions of the working class have not yet moved into action. These forces can stop production in the country, bring it to a halt. They will have no choice but to act when they see what is coming for them. There is also the situation in the state apparatus. In Ferguson it was relatively simple. The cops were overwhelmingly white and being used against the black population. In the major cities of the country the cops are much more diverse and faced with a movement of the working class will begin to crack and split.

The US ruling class is gravely concerned about social unrest spreading such is the level of anger beneath the surface of US society. Obama has just appeared with efforts to calm the situation. We are "All part of the American family" he tells a national audience.  We are "United in common values, including a belief in equality under the law". But few workers really believe this, the propaganda falls on deaf ears. The concern is deep. We must all step back says Obama.  We must all come together to "go forward" and such nonsense. He made it clear that there is "Never an excuse for violence against the police" the armed body of the state the function of which is to defend capitalism and the ruling class. In an attempt to appear fair he says it is also not acceptable for the police to "arrest peaceful protestors" this means participating in protests that are passive and ineffective.  Direct action, occupations, strikes, tactics that built our unions and won us everything we have to this point will not be subject to such protection.  Obama's mealy mouthed phrases do not fool anyone, they do not negate what we say here that as part of the capitalist offensive he is arming the police and National Guard to the teeth with weapons and military technology recently used in and Afghanistan.

The US labor leaders have the power to stop what is going on. But they are completely in bed with US capitalism and its offensive. They are a criminal disgrace in their refusal to mobilize their members and all workers to fight. A new opposition movement has to be built in the workplaces, the union rank and files, the communities and the schools and colleges. This must identify the offensive of US capitalism and take it on with mass direct action, throw it back and open up a new offensive of the working class instead.

Norman Finkelstein on the BDS Campaign and groups

by Richard Mellor Afscme Local 444, retired

I have nothing but admiration for Norman Finkelstein.  A particular aspect of this discussion that hit home with me outside of the Israel/Palestine question is the question of groups, cults and the inability, perhaps refusal would be a better term, to reach or direct their views at the public as it is.

As readers of this blog must be aware by now, we have the opinion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the internal life of the huge array of left groups, socialist, anarchist, communist etc. to which many of us have belonged.  After all, there are thousands more people outside of these groups than within them who still consider themselves socialists.

Finkelstein's comments hit home with me and I'll give an example. I was in a socialist group but my day to day political life was in the workplace and the union, a blue collar union. If it was not in this organization of workers, it was in others, rental rights groups and the like. Our strategy was always too link workers' struggles no matter where they occurred. This protected me in my opinion, from being isolated from the real world.

Years ago, I took up the killing of a young black man by a transit cop. His father was a fire fighter. As was always the case, I took this issue in to my workplace and in to my local union and the wider labor movement. One thing about the group I was in was that it definitely oriented to the working class and had a large working class membership internationally. The young man's name was Jerrold Hall.

The murder was brought to my attention by another socialist in another group (they are rivals which is part of the problem).  I brought the issue in to my union and the membership at the time were very supportive, after all the unarmed youth was shot in the back of the head as he was walking away from the cop.

A short time after, the bourgeois media runs a story about the young man.  He was a bit of a bully, apparently hit is girlfriend here and there and on the night of the murder had stolen a Walkman off a kid on the train and slapped one around a bit, I would have to go dig up my files to recall it all but that's the gist of it.

The purpose of this story was to denigrate this young man of course, to sway public opinion; just another young black thug walking the streets preying on any easy mark. They do the same in labor disputes every worker knows that. I called the person who had asked me to get my union's help and it turned out these details that came out in the press were accurate and she knew about them.

I was angry to say the least and blasted her for not telling me.  She immediately responded by questioning my loyalty basically, of siding with the cops, black youth, white cop, why did I need any more information than that?

I told her why.  Although I belonged to a fairly small socialist organization, this group never took me out of the class struggle, never isolated me from my co-workers cult like, but helped me to sink deeper roots in the class, helped me strengthen my local, my co-workers and the working class as a whole by listening, learning and helping them to fight back. As Finkelstein explains above in different terms, it is, important to gauge the mood, the thinking of the public in order to intervene in a healthy way with one's ideas, after all, we have to defend them.

When my fellow union members read that article and wavered with regards to their putting their necks out there for this young guy, I had to have an answer, just as I did with every question that came up.  But for the member of the small insignificant sect, and I think every left group has an aspect of cultism to it, it was simply a matter of convincing the other 10 members of the group who are all agreed on things anyway. But I  had to convince the folks at the union hall with all their varying opinions and in the wake of a media effort to sway them in favor of the cop,  that while the guy was no saint, we are right to oppose his murder by this cop. I had to convince workers, not by manipulating anyone.  As a worker myself, I was confident that knowing all the facts, even the young man's weaknesses, they would take his side; and they did.

For years, when I would write a piece, especially if it was about politics, or some sort of theoretical question, I would constantly think about what the left would say about what I was writing. What would they attack me for? If I used this phrase, that formulation, I would try to avoid attacks from the left, mostly because it would mean having to take important time responding to people who really have no influence at all.

This was very harmful as I have always considered that I write for workers, in other words, it is important as Finkelstein says above, that we understand where the public is at. Worrying about what a group with 25 people in it might say, a group that announces themselves as the leadership of the working class never mind that no one has heard of them, was but a diversion.  Those of on the left must ask ourselves how come the left never built a left current in the US working class? It's not all objective conditions.

So a lot of the criticism Finkelstein levels at the BDS movement I agree with. I do say that the group I was in was different to a certain degree, but like all left groups, they believe they and only they have the right methods and more important than building or helping to build a generalized movement is increasing the numbers of one's own organization. Building the group is paramount, the movement secondary.  So they have no real effect and end up with nothing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Palestinian lives are cheap.

If you wonder why the reaction to the occupation and theft of land by the Zionists in Palestine can be so brutal. This might help. From Breaking the silence.