Ending austerity in Greece: time for plan B?

By Jerome Roos On February 26, 2015

Post image for Ending austerity in Greece: time for plan B?Syriza’s “head-long retreat” in the standoff with its creditors hails the failure of Tsipras’ pro-euro strategy. It’s time to start preparing for Grexit.

Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis.

When the Eurogroup accepted Greece’s reform proposals on Tuesday, investors and EU leaders let out a collective sigh of relief: it appears that the bombshell of a disorderly Greek exit from the Eurozone has been diffused, at least until the start of the summer. In return for a significant roll-back of its campaign pledges, Greece’s freshly inaugurated government secured a four-month extension of its current bailout program and thereby managed to avert a potentially catastrophic bank run that would likely have resulted in Grexit.

But while Greece’s creditors seemed content, the agreement immediately unleashed a bitter debate within the governing leftist party Syriza. Prime Minister Tsipras may have declared a tentative victory for his anti-austerity coalition, but some influential party members strongly criticized what they perceived to be an unacceptable climbdown. Costas Lapavitsas, the SOAS economist and Syriza MP, wrote a scathing letter expressing his serious concerns about the government’s ability to stick to its promises, while Stathis Kouvelakis of Syriza’s central committee dubbed the agreement a “head-long retreat.”

Manolis Glezos, the 94-year-old war hero and Syriza MEP, even went so far as toapologize to the Greek people for having participated in “this illusion,” while the legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis urged the government to resist the “fatal embrace” of its creditors. Paul Mason reports that “there is a sea change going on within Syriza. In the past 48 hours I’ve heard people who were staunch believers in the ‘good euro’ — a euro that can accommodate by negotiation a radical left government — say, effectively, they were wrong.”

How are we to respond to all this? The first thing to observe is Spinoza’s dictum:non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere — not to ridicule, lament or condemn, but to understand. If we really want to understand Syriza’s rapid retreat over the past week and engage in constructive criticism to end austerity, we’ll have to start, first of all, with the strategy chosen by its party leadership, particularly in relation to the euro; and secondly with the way in which the single currency serves as an amplifier of structural power relations between creditors and debtors — core and periphery — in the European political economy.

On the first point, it is clear that the so-called “good euro” strategy proposed by the party leadership and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose “modest proposal” for resolving the crisis fundamentally revolves around a wholesale restructuring of the Eurozone along Keynesian lines, has run headlong into the opposition of virtually everyone else involved. In the negotiations, Greece found itself isolated not only by the 18 other Eurozone finance ministers (including the center-left French and Italians and the other heavily indebted countries), but also by the ECB and the European Commission.

Moreover, going into the negotiations, Greece suffered from two structural weaknesses: the near-total depletion of its public finances and the extremely parlous state of its domestic banking system. With its reserves running on empty, the government would have run out of financing by February 24 and would have been forced to default on its IMF obligations by March. At the same time, increasing uncertainty about Greece’s place in the Eurozone produced sustained deposit flight, bringing the Greek banks to the brink of collapse.

Strategically speaking, the government could have wielded these weaknesses as a bargaining chip. Had it been willing to put its euro membership on the line, Greece might have been able to extract greater concessions from its risk-averse “partners” by threatening unilateral action if the creditors refused to give in. But default and Grexit were ruled out a priori by Syriza’s moderate leadership, which repeatedly declared its unwavering commitment to the single currency. Knowing this, Germany and its allies pushed for total surrender: with Greece weak and dependent on external loans, the Eurozone could enforce strict conditions in return for continued membership.

This first observation is connected to the second point: the highly asymmetric power relations at the heart of the monetary union. In previous columns, I have repeatedly argued that Germany — as the dominant force inside the Eurozone — would never accept a restructuring of the Greek debt, that the Eurozone wouldnever accommodate a social democratic alternative in its midst, and that as a result Greece’s leftist government would find it impossible to pursue a socially progressive alternative (let alone a radical program) inside the fundamentally regressive, anti-social and anti-democratic straitjacket of the Eurozone.

These predictions — which are very similar to those made by Costas Lapavitsasand others inside Syriza’s Left Platform — have now been proven correct. Continued Eurozone membership keeps Greece stuck within a web of structural constraints from which it cannot escape without its creditors’ approval. And since these creditors are loathe to set a precedent of successful debtor defiance, they will do anything to prevent Greece from upending the neoliberal austerity doctrine. There can be only one conclusion from this: to truly end austerity, Greece will have to leave the euro.

To be sure, Grexit is not a panacea. Readjustment will be extremely painful in the short term, and even in the long-run it is clear that restoring fiscal and monetary policy autonomy will never be enough to overcome the structural dependence of the Greek economy on foreign investment or to insulate the Greek state from the systemic pressures of global finance. The point of Grexit, however, is not to fetishize national sovereignty but simply to reclaim the essential monetary and fiscal policy tools that the government now lacks — and without which it is materially impossible to determine socioeconomic priorities and pursue a progressive economic program.

The most important challenge, in this respect, will not necessarily be economic in nature but rather social, political and psychological. Before Greece can ever be liberated from its state of debt servitude and its plight of permanent austerity, its government will first need to be in a position to default on its European creditors and “print” its own currency. This will in turn require three things:

First, mass mobilization from below will be essential, both to put pressure on Syriza’s leadership and to empower the pro-Grexit faction inside the party, which is now steadily growing in the wake of last week’s dramatic retreat. Second, voters will have to abandon their aversion towards Grexit and public opinion will have to sway behind a much more confrontational approach. To get there, the left and the movements will have to embark on a concerted campaign of “popular education” to inform the Greek public of the only real options available to their country: progressive exit or endless austerity.

Finally, and most importantly, the government would have to be meticulously prepared to manage the extremely difficult transition period, in which the price of imported goods will skyrocket following a sharp devaluation; key commodities like food, petroleum and medicine will have to be rationed to deal with sudden scarcity; capital controls and border controls will have to be reintroduced to prevent catastrophic capital flight; deposits and loan contracts will need to be re-denominated into drachma; and the banks will have to be nationalized to prevent a complete collapse of the financial system.

All of this will require a degree of radicalization and preparation that currently seems both utterly irresponsible and completely unrealistic. Yet this is precisely where the brutally anti-democratic methods of the Eurozone are pushing Greece today. For five years, Greeks have been living in total despair. Desperate times call for desperate measures — and the time for unilateral default and Grexit may be approaching faster than most people are willing or able to recognize. If the left truly cares about ending austerity, it should start preparing for Plan B.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JeromeRoos. This article was written for TeleSUR English.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/02/greece-austerity-euro-exit/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Child poverty at devastating levels in US cities and states

r-CHILD-POVERTY-large570

By Patrick Martin 

26 February 2015

Reports issued over the past week suggest that child poverty in America is more widespread than at any time in the last 50 years. For all the claims of economic “recovery” in the United States, the reality for the new generation of the working class is one of ever-deeper social deprivation.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes the annual Kids Count report on child poverty, which was the source of state-by-state reports issued last week. These reports use the new Supplemental Poverty Measure, developed by the Census Bureau, which includes the impact of government benefit programs like food stamps and unemployment compensation, as well as state social programs, and accounts for variations in the cost of living as well.

The result is a picture of the United States with a markedly different regional distribution of child poverty than usually presented. The state with the highest child poverty rate is California, the most populous, at a staggering 27 percent, followed by neighboring Arizona and Nevada, each at 22 percent.

The child poverty rate of California is much higher than figures previously reported, because the cost of living in the state is higher. Moreover, many of the poorest immigrant families are not enrolled in federal social programs because they are undocumented or face language barriers. The same conditions apply in Arizona and Nevada.

The other major centers of child poverty in the United States are the long-impoverished states of the rural Deep South, and the more recently devastated states of the industrial Midwest, where conditions of life for the working class have deteriorated the most rapidly over the past ten years.

It is a remarkable fact, documented in a separate report issued February 23 by the Catholic charity Bread for the World, that African-American child poverty rates are actually worse in the Midwest states of Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana than in the traditionally poorest parts of the Deep South, including Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Several of the Midwest states have replaced Mississippi at the bottom of one or another social index. Iowa has the worst poverty rate for African-American children. Indiana has the highest rate of teens attempting or seriously considering suicide.

The most remarkable transformation is in Michigan, once the center of American industry with the highest working-class standard of living of any state. Michigan is the only major US state whose overall poverty rate is actually worse now than in 1960.

This half-century of decline is a devastating indictment of the failure of the American trade unions, which have collaborated in the systematic impoverishment of the working class in what was once their undisputed stronghold.

The United Auto Workers, in particular, did nothing as dozens of plants were shut down and cities like Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw were laid waste by the auto bosses. Meanwhile, the UAW became a billion-dollar business, its executives controlling tens of billions in pension and benefit funds, while the rank-and-file workers lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods.

In Detroit, once the industrial capital of the world’s richest country, the child poverty rate was 59 percent in 2012, up from 44.3 percent in 2006.

The social catastrophe facing the population in Detroit also exposes the role of the Democratic Party and the organizations around it that have for decades promoted identity politics—according to which race, and not class, is the fundamental social category in America. The city, like many throughout the region, has been run by a layer of black politicians who have overseen the shocking decay in the social position of African-American workers and youth. (See, “Half a million children in poverty in Michigan”.)

Cleveland, also devastated by steel and auto plant closings, was the only other major US city with a child poverty rate of over 50 percent.

The Detroit figure undoubtedly understates the social catastrophe in the Motor City, since it comes from a study concluded before the state-imposed emergency manager put the city into bankruptcy in the summer of 2013, leading to drastic cuts in wages, benefits and pensions for city workers and retirees.

Wayne County, which includes Detroit, had the highest child poverty rate of any of Michigan’s 82 counties. Southeast Michigan, which includes the entire Detroit metropolitan area, endured an overall rise in child poverty rates from 18.9 percent in 2006 to 27 percent in 2012.

The state-by-state reports issued by Kids Count were accompanied by a press release by the Casey Foundation noting that the child poverty rate in the United States would nearly double, from 18 percent to 33 percent, without social programs like food stamps, school meals, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

This was issued as a warning of the effect of widely expected budget cuts in these critical programs. It coincided with the first hearing before the House Agriculture Committee on plans to attack the federal food stamp program by imposing work requirements and other restrictions to limit eligibility.

The food stamp program has already suffered through two rounds of budget cuts agreed on in bipartisan deals between the Obama White House and congressional Republicans, which cut $1 billion and $5 billion respectively from the program. Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress, they will press for even more sweeping cuts in a program that helps feed 47 million low-income people, many of them children.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/02/26/cpov-f26.html

The poor fetish: commodifying working class culture

By Joseph Todd On February 25, 2015

Post image for The poor fetish: commodifying working class cultureBullshit jobs and a pointless existence are increasingly driving London’s spiritually dead middle class towards a fetishization of working class culture.

Photo: Fruit stall in Shoreditch, London (Source: Flickr/Garry Knight).

Literally, he paints her portrait, then he can fuck off  —  he can leave. When Leonardo DiCaprio is freezing in water, she notices that he’s dead, and starts to shout, ‘I will never let you go,’ but while she is shouting this, she is pushing him away. It’s not even a love story. Again, Captains Courageous: upper classes lose their life, passion, vitality and act like a vampire to suck vitality from a lower-class guy. Once they replenish their energy, he can fuck off.

– Slavoj Zizek on Titanic

London’s middle class are in crisis — they feel empty and clamor for vitality. Their work is alienating and meaningless, many of them in “bullshit jobs” that are either socially useless, overly bureaucratic or divorced from any traditional notion of labor.

Financial services exist to grow the fortunes of capitalists, advertising to exploit our insecurities and public relations to manage the reputations of companies that do wrong. Society would not collapse without these industries. We could cope without the nexus of lobbyists, corporate lawyers and big firm accountants whose sole purpose is to protect the interests of capital. How empty if must feel to work a job that could be abolished tomorrow. One that at best makes no tangible difference to society and at worst encourages poverty, hunger and ecological collapse.

At the same time our doctors, teachers, university professors, architects, lawyers, solicitors and probation officers are rendered impotent. Desperate to just do their jobs yet besieged by bureaucracy and box-ticking. Their energies are focused not on helping the sick, teaching the young or building hospitals but on creating and maintaining the trail of paperwork that is a prerequisite of any meaningful action in late capitalist society. Talk to anybody in these professions, from the public or private sector, and the frustration that comes up again and again is that they spend the majority of their time writing reports, filling in forms and navigating bureaucratic labyrinths that serve only to justify themselves.

This inaction hurts the middle-class man. He feels impotent in the blue glare of his computer screen. Unable to do anything useful, alienated from physical labor and plagued by the knowledge that his father could use his hands, and the lower classes still do. Escape, however, is impossible. Ever since the advent of the smartphone the traditional working day has been abolished. Office workers are at the constant mercy of email, a culture of overwork and a digitalization of work. Your job can be done anytime, anywhere and this is exactly what capital demands. Refuge can only be found in sleep, another domain which capital isdetermined to control.

And when the middle classes are awake and working, they cannot even show contempt for their jobs. Affective (or emotional) labor has always been a part of nursing and prostitution, be it fluffing pillows or faking orgasms, but now it has infected both the shop floor of corporate consumer chains and the offices of middle-management above. Staff working at Pret-à-Manger are encouraged to touch each other, “have presence” and “be happy to be themselves.” In the same way the open plan, hyper-extroverted modern office environment enforces positivity. Offering a systemic critique of the very nature of your work does not make you a ‘team player.’ In such an environment, bringing up the pointlessness of your job is akin to taking a shit on the boss’s desk.

This culture is symptomatic of neoliberal contradiction, one which tells us to be true to ourselves and follow our passions in a system that makes it nearly impossible to do so. A system where we work longer hours, for less money and are taught to consume instead of create. Where fulfilling vocations such as teaching, caring or the arts are either vilified, badly paid or not paid at all. Where the only work that will enable you to have a comfortable life is meaningless, bureaucratic or evil. In such a system you are left with only one option: to embrace the myth that your job is your passion while on a deeper level recognizing that it is actually bullshit.

This is London’s middle class crisis.

But thankfully capital has an antidote. Just as in Titanic, when Kate Winslet saps the life from the visceral, working class Leonardo DiCaprio, middle-class Londoners flock to bars and clubs that sell a pre-packaged, commodified experience of working class and immigrant culture. Pitched as a way to re-connect with reality, experience life on the edge and escape the bureaucratic, meaningless, alienated dissonance that pervades their working lives.

The problem, however, is that the symbols, aesthetics and identities that populate these experiences have been ripped from their original contexts and re-positioned in a way that is acceptable to the middle class. In the process, they are stripped of their culture and assigned an economic value. In this way, they are emptied of all possible meaning.

Visit any bar in the hip districts of Brixton, Dalston or Peckham and you will invariably end up in a warehouse, on the top floor of a car park or under a railway arch. Signage will be minimal and white bobbing faces will be crammed close, a Stockholm syndrome recreation of the twice-daily commute, enjoying their two hours of planned hedonism before the work/sleep cycle grinds back into gear.

Expect gritty, urban aesthetics. Railway sleepers grouped around fire pits, scuffed tables and chairs reclaimed from the last generation’s secondary schools and hastily erected toilets with clattering wooden doors and graffitied mixed sex washrooms. Notice the lack of anything meaningful. Anything with politics or soul. Notice the ubiquity of Red Stripe, once an emblem of Jamaican culture, now sold to white ‘creatives’ at £4 a can.

The warehouse, once a site of industry, has trudged down this path of appropriation. At first it was squatters and free parties, the disadvantaged of a different kind, transforming a space of labor into one of hedonistic illegality and sound system counter-culture. Now the warehouse resides in the middle-class consciousness as the go-to space for every art exhibition or party. Any meaning it may once have had is dead. Its industrial identity has been destroyed and the transgressive thrill the warehouse once represented has been neutered by money, legality and middle-class civility.

Nonetheless many still function as clubs across Southeast London, pumping out reggae and soul music appropriated from the long-established Afro-Caribbean communities to white middle-class twenty-somethings who can afford the £15 entrance. Eventually the warehouse aesthetic will make its way to the top of the pay scale and, as the areas in which they reside reach an acceptable level of gentrification, they will become blocks of luxury flats. Because what else does London need but more kitsch, high ceiling hideaways to shield capital from tax?

The ‘street food revolution’ was not a revolution but a middle-class realization that they could abandon their faux bourgeois restaurants and reach down the socioeconomic ladder instead of up. Markets that once sold fruit and vegetables for a pound a bowl to working class and immigrant communities became venues that commodified and sold the culture of their former clientèle. Vendors with new cute names but the same gritty aesthetics serve over-priced ethnic food and craft beer to a bustling metropolitan crowd, paying not for the cuisine or the cold but for the opportunity to bathe in the edgy cool aesthetic of a former working class space.

This is the romantic illusion that these bars, clubs and street food markets construct; that their customers are the ones on the edge of life, running the gauntlet of Zola’s Les Halles, eating local on makeshift benches whilst drinking beer from the can. Yet this zest is vicarious. Only experienced secondhand through objects and spaces appropriated from below. Spaces which are dully sanitized of any edge and rendered un-intimidating enough for the middle classes to inhabit. Appealing enough for them to trek to parts of London in which they’d never dare live in search of something meaningful. In the hope that some semblance of reality will slip back into view.

The illusion is delicate and fleeting. In part it explains the roving zeitgeist of the metropolitan hipster whose anatomy Douglas Haddow so brilliantly managed to pin down. Because as soon as a place becomes inhabited with too many white, middle-class faces it becomes difficult to keep playing penniless. The braying accents crowd in and the illusion shatters. Those who aren’t committed to the working class aesthetic, yuppies dressed in loafers and shirts rather than scruffy plimsoles and vintage wool coats, begin to dominate and it all becomes just a bit too West London. And in no-time at all the zeitgeist rolls on to the next market, pool hall or dive bar ripe for discovery, colonization and commodification.

Not all businesses understand this delicacy. Champagne and Fromage waded into the hipster darling food market of Brixton Village, upsetting locals and regulars alike. This explicitly bourgeois restaurant, attracted by the hip kudos and ready spending of the area, inadvertently pointed out that the emperor had no clothes. That the commodified working class experience the other restaurants had been pedaling was nothing more than an illusion.

The same anxiety that fuels this cultural appropriation also drives first wave gentrifiers to ‘discover’ new areas that have been populated by working class or immigrant communities for decades. Cheap rents beckon but so does the chance of emancipation from the bourgeois culture of their previous North London existence. The chance to live in an area that is gritty, genuine and real. But this reality is always kept at arm’s length. Gentrifiers have the income to inoculate themselves from how locals live. They plump for spacious Georgian semi-detached houses on a quiet street away from the tower blocks. They socialize in gastro-pubs and artisan cafés. They can do without sure start centers, food banks and the local comprehensive.

Their experience will always be confined to dancing in a warehouse, drinking cocktails from jam jars or climbing the stairs of a multi-story car park in search of a new pop-up restaurant. Never will they face the grinding monotony of mindless work, the inability to pay bills or feed their children, nor the feeling of guilt and hopelessness that comes from being at the bottom of a system that blames the individual but offers no legitimate means by which they can escape.

This partial experience is deliberate. Because with intimate knowledge of how the other half live comes an ugly truth: that middle-class privilege is in many ways premised on working class exploitation. That the rising house prices and cheap mortgages from which they have benefited create a rental market shot with misery. That the money inherited from their parents goes largely untaxed while benefits for both the unemployed and working poor are slashed. That the unpaid internships they can afford to take sustains a culture that excludes the majority from comfortable, white collar jobs. That their accent, speech patterns and knowledge of institutions, by their very deployment in the job market, perpetuate norms that exclude those who were born outside of the cultural elite.

Effie Trinket of the Hunger Games is the ideal manifestation of this contradiction. She is Kaitness and Peeta’s flamboyant chaperone who goes from being a necessary annoyance in the first film towards nominal acceptance in the second. The relationship climaxes when, just as Kaitness and Peeta are about to re-enter the arena, Effie presents Hamich and Peeta with a gold band and necklace, a consumerist expression of their heightened intimacy. And in that very moment, her practiced façade of enthusiastic positivity finally breaks. Through her sobs she cries “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” and backs away, absent for the rest of the film.

For Effie, the contradiction surfaced and was too much to bear. She realized that the misery and oppression of those in the districts was in some way caused by her privilege. But her tears were shed for a more fundamental truth — that although she recognizes the horror of the world, she enjoys the material comfort exploitation brings. That if given the choice between the status quo and revolution, she wouldn’t change a thing.

Joseph Todd is a writer and activist who has been published in The Baffler, Salon and CounterFire, among others. For more writings, visit his website.

Celebrating a decade of Zapatismo in East Harlem

By Jessica Davis On February 24, 2015

Post image for Celebrating a decade of Zapatismo in the CitySince ten years the local people of El Barrio have been organizing horizontally to create non-authoritarian spaces of urban resistance and solidarity.

Photo via the Americas Program

We fight so that:
The oceans and mountains will belong to those who live in and take care of them;
The rivers and deserts will belong to those who live in and take care of them;
The valleys and ravines will belong to those who live in and take care of them;
Homes and cities will belong to those who live in and take care of them;
No one will own more land than they can cultivate;
No one will own more homes than they can live in.

Ten years ago, in an area of East Harlem known as El Barrio, women from fifteen Mexican immigrant families came together to see how they could achieve decent housing in their community. They were fighting against gentrification and displacement, as their landlord was trying to force them out of their homes to attract wealthier tenants and transform their neighborhood. Since they had no previous organising experience, they knew there was much to learn. They listened to and supported each other, and in December 2004 they founded theMovement for Justice in El Barrio (The Movement).

The Movement is made up of low-income tenants, the majority of whom are immigrants. Many are also indigenous. Forced by poverty to leave their beloved Mexico, they built a strong community in El Barrio, and were determined not to allow themselves to be displaced yet again. They understood that their struggle was against a neoliberal system made up of abusive landlords, property speculators, multinational corporations, corrupt politicians and government institutions seeking to push them away from their much-loved community.

Autonomy and self-determination

We believe that those who suffer injustice first-hand must design and lead their own struggles for justice.

The movement is built around the principles of autonomy, self-determination, and participatory democracy, and it is based on horizontal, leaderless forms of organization. Their goal is to create spaces where people can come together as a community to share their problems. In this way they can collectively come up with solutions, and it is the community itself that has the power. The Movement believes that not being dependent on anyone to tell them what to do creates a strong foundation that can never be destroyed.

Consulting the community is the basis of The Movement’s organizing activity. Its members go door to door, building by building and block by block, getting to know people and forging strong relationships. Committees are formed in each building, and once a whole building is organized, they become members. Each building agrees on its own actions and forms of struggle. The Movement is also deeply committed to fighting all forms of discrimination and respecting differences. Above all, this means listening to one another.

The group operates on many levels. In addition to door-knocking, it holds town hall meetings, community dialogues, street outreach, house meetings, and community-wide votes. It organises protests, marches and direct action. It makes clever use of the media, gives interviews and talks, and organizes gatherings. It uses tactics such as court actions and public condemnation, and once community consultations have been carried out, it campaigns on specific issues.


Movement for Justice in El Barrio: A Decade of Dignified Struggle

We all share a common enemy and it is called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism wishes to divide us and keep us from joining forces. We will defeat this by continuing to unite our entire community, until we achieve true liberation for all.

The organization faces many challenges. Most of its members speak no English and have had few opportunities for education. They have little access to media and information; very few of them have computers. In addition to all of the responsibilities that come with family life, they are forced to work ten- to fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week. This makes it difficult for them to also attend four- or five-hour meetings to make decisions, and it is difficult for everyone to come together at the same time. Because everyone must be consulted, and all decisions are made collectively, it can take a long time to reach an agreement. Yet in spite of all these difficulties, the commitment and achievements of its members have been remarkable.

In keeping with its principles, The Movement accepts no government funding and has no involvement with politicians or political parties. Its members know that it is essential to build bridges with other ignored, forgotten and marginalized communities including women, migrants, people of color, and the LGBT community, and to build relationships with members of these organizations, who are also fighting against multiple forms of oppression.

Building community

Together, we resist with dignity and fight back against the actions of capitalist landlords and multinational corporations who are displacing poor families from our neighborhood. We fight back locally and across borders. We fight back against local politicians who refuse to obey the will of the people. We fight back against the government institutions that enforce a global economic, social and political system that seeks to destroy humanity.

Human beings were born to live in community — we cannot survive without each other. A society and culture that promotes individualism, everyone for themselves, also promotes loneliness, isolation and despair. Ten years ago, The Movement’s current members did not even know each other, and they had no fellowship with the other inhabitants of their building. Now they resist, organize and celebrate victories together. They have built a community of friendship, love, trust and solidarity, and transformed their lives.

Many of the members of this remarkable organization believe that their greatest achievement over the last ten years has been to build a culture of resistance. This has led to a sense of identity and self-worth, of being a part of something that gives purpose and meaning to their lives. A new generation of children are growing up in an amazing environment of organizing, marching and of collective decision-making, and it makes a lasting impact on their lives, shining through in their vibrant community spirit.

The strength of the community The Movement has created is reflected in the astonishing fact that not one of its members has been displaced over the last ten years. In fact, so far, they have won every battle with which they have been confronted. It is no wonder that Village Voice chose The Movement as the “Best Power to the People Movement in New York City.”

Learning from other struggles

We have found ways to make our voices heard and to let our voices echo with the voices of other marginalized people resisting across the world.

When The Movement was founded in December 2004, its members had no previous organizing experience. They began to look for other dignified struggles to learn from. When they read the Zapatista’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, released in June 2005, members saw a mirror of themselves reflected in it. Since then, they have developed their own form of urban Zapatismo, and continue to look to their Zapatista compañeras and compañeros for inspiration in their daily struggle for justice and collective liberation.

With the women, as always, at the forefront, The Movement has applied tools and ways of organizing they learned from the Zapatistas in their own local struggle. The Consultas de Barrio are fundamental to their work. These are neighborhood consultations that enable all local residents to identify the issues which most concern them. These consultations build and strengthen the community at the local level, helping them bring more people into the struggle, and ensure that all of their campaigns are driven by the entire El Barrio community.

Encuentros is a well-known Zapatista tradition that The Movement has made its own in both New York and in Mexico. It serves as a way to link struggles and to build networks of solidarity. They say:

An Encuentro is a space for people to come together; it is a gathering. AnEncuentro is not a meeting, a panel or a conference. It is a way of sharing developed by the Zapatistas as another form of doing politics: from below and to the left. It is a place where we can all speak, listen and learn. It is a place where we can share the many different struggles that make us one.

The next ten years

As they celebrate their tenth anniversary, The Movement now has 900 members, 80% of whom are women, spread out over 85 building committees. Its dignified resistance continues to grow. The Movement and its members have won numerous victories against the brutal landlords and multinational corporations who try to take away their homes and destroy their community. They have held politicians and city institutions to account and constructed a culture of resistance and a community of solidarity. They have formed strong bonds with groups in many countries, and their word has been heard around the world. As the Zapatistas say, the struggle continues.

We are struggling for housing, for education, for health, for freedom, for justice, for love, for a voice, for a space to exist, for peace, for respect, for ourselves, for our community, for dignity…for humanity. We stand in resistance, here, in our corner of the world. Together we will build a world where many worlds fit — un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.

Jessica Davies is an activist and member of the UK Zapatista Solidarity Network. This article was originally published on Dorset Chiapas Solidarity.

Glezos denounces Greek loan agreement as “illusion”

By Manolis Glezos On February 22, 2015

Post image for Glezos denounces Greek loan agreement as “illusion”Syriza’s most senior politician, the 94-year-old war hero and MEP Manolis Glezos, opposes his party’s decision to extend the Eurozone bailout program.

Before it’s too late:

The fact that the Troika has been renamed ‘the Institutions’, the Memorandum has been renamed the ‘Agreement’, and the creditors have been renamed the ‘partners’ — in the same manner as baptizing meat as fish — does not change the previous situation.

You can’t change the vote of the Greek people in the election of January 25.

The Greek people voted for what SYRIZA promised: that we abolish the regime of austerity, which is the strategy not only of the oligarchies of Germany and the other creditor countries but also of the Greek oligarchy; that we abrogate the Memorandum and the Troika and all the austerity legislation; that the next day, with one law, we abolish the Troika and its consequences.

A month has passed and this promise has yet to become action.

It is a pity indeed.

From my part I APOLOGIZE to the Greek people for having assisted in this illusion.

Before we continue in the wrong direction, before it’s too late, let’s react.

Above all, the members, the friends and supporters of SYRIZA, in urgent meetings at all levels of the organization, have to decide if they accept this situation.

Some people say that in an agreement you also have to make some concessions. But as a matter of principle, between the oppressor and the oppressed there can be no compromise, as there can be no compromise between the slave and the tyrant. Freedom is the only solution.

But even if we accept this absurdity, the concessions that have already been made by the previous pro-memoranda government with unemployment, poverty and suicide, are beyond any limit of concession…

Manolis Glezos is a Member of European Parliament for Syriza. Source:News247Translation by Panagiotis Sotiris. Photo courtesy of GUE/NGL.

Federal Reserve Says Your Wages are Too High

toronto-mission-1931

The New American Way: Work Harder for Less Pay

by PETE DOLACK

The Federal Reserve has declared that the reason for ongoing economic weakness is because wages have not fallen enough. Wages have been stagnant for four decades while productivity has soared, but nonetheless orthodox economists believe the collapse of 2008 has been a missed opportunity.

A paper prepared by two senior researchers with the San Francisco branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank attempts to explain the lack of wage growth experienced as unemployment has fallen over the past couple of years this way:

“One explanation for this pattern is the hesitancy of employers to reduce wages and the reluctance of workers to accept wage cuts, even during recessions, a behavior known as downward nominal wage rigidity.”

The two Federal Reserve researchers, Mary Daly and Bart Hobijn, based their argument on the standard ideology of orthodox economists, writing:

“Downward rigidities prevent businesses from reducing wages as much as they would like following a negative shock to the economy. This keeps wages from falling, but it also further reduces the demand for workers, contributing to the rise in unemployment. Accordingly, the higher wages come with more unemployment than would occur if wages were flexible and could be fully reduced.”

The “problem” of wages stubbornly refusing to drop as much as corporate executives and financiers would like is referred to as the “sticky wages” problem in orthodox economics. Simply put, this “problem” is one that orthodox economists, themselves not necessarily subject to the market forces they wish to impose on others, have long struggled to “solve.” You perhaps will not be surprised to hear that “government” is the problem. Consider this remarkable passage published on the web site of the Mises Institute, an advocate of the Austrian school of economics:

“Much of the alleged ‘stickiness’ of wages is due to government policies. … [T]he trouble stems from workers not being willing to take pay cuts. When the demand from employers drops, at the old wage rate there is now surplus labor — a.k.a. unemployment. Only when market wages drop to a lower level, so that demand once again matches supply, will equilibrium be restored in the labor market.”

Collapsing wages in the Great Depression didn’t help

According to this author, Robert P. Murphy, an “associated scholar” of the Mises Institute, failing to drive down wages is such a big mistake that it caused the Great Depression. He writes:

“After the 1929 crash, Herbert Hoover gathered the nation’s leading businessmen for a conference in Washington and urged them to allow profits and dividends to take the hit, but to spare workers’ paychecks. Rather than cut wages, businesses were supposed to implement spread-the-work schemes where workers would cut back their hours. The rationale for Hoover’s high-wage policy was that the worker supposedly needed to be paid ‘enough to buy back the product.’ … The idea was that wage cuts would just cause workers to cut their spending, which would in turn lead to another round of wage cuts in a vicious downward spiral.”

Herbert Hoover was not vicious enough! Although it was Hoover’s Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, who advocated the government “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate” so as to “purge the rottenness out of the system,” and not Hoover himself, the president did take hard-line right-wing positions. Michael Parenti, in discussing Hoover in his book History as Mystery, wrote:

“Like so many conservatives then and now, Hoover preached the virtues of self-reliance, opposed the taxation of overseas corporate earnings, sought to reduce income taxes for the highest brackets, and was against a veterans’ bonus and aid to drought sufferers. He repeatedly warned that public assistance programs were the beginning of ‘state socialism.’ Toward business, however, he suffered from no such ‘inflexibility’ and could spend generously. He supported multimillion-dollar federal subsidies to shipping interests and agribusiness, and his Reconstruction Finance Corporation doled out about $2 billion to banks and corporations.” [page 261]

Hoover’s concern for working people was demonstrated when his troops fired on veterans demanding payments owed to them and burned their camps. His laissez-faire policies led to manufacturing wages falling 34 percent and unemployment rising to about 25 percent by 1933. That collapse in wages did not bring better times; only the massive government spending to wage World War II put an end to the Depression. Such wage declines, in the real world, actually make the economy worse, argues Keynesian economist Paul Krugman:

“[Y]ou could argue that a sufficiently large fall in wages could restore full employment now — but it would have to be a very large wage decline, and the positive effects would kick in only after deflation had first driven just about every debtor in the economy into bankruptcy.”

How many formulae can be written on the head of a pin?

Although orthodox economics is often nothing more than ideology in the service of capitalist elites, its practitioners like to believe themselves scientific because they base their theories on mathematical models. Unfortunately, these formulae are divorced from the real, physical world; the economy and the human behavior that animates it are not reducible to mathematics.

Robert Kuttner, a heterodox economist, explored these shortcomings in an article originally published in Atlantic Monthly. He wrote:

“The [prevailing] method of practicing economic science creates a professional ethic of studied myopia. Apprentice economists are relieved of the need to learn much about the complexities of human motivation, the messy universe of economic institutions, or the real dynamics of technological change. Those who have real empirical curiosity and insight about the workings of banks, corporations, production technologies, trade unions, economic history or individual behavior are dismissed as casual empiricists, literary historians or sociologists, and marginalized within the profession. In their place departments are graduating a generation of idiots savants, brilliant at esoteric mathematics yet innocent of  actual economic life.”

That was written in 1985; little if anything has changed since and arguably has gotten worse. Professor Kuttner points out that the very fact of persistent unemployment contradicts the basic theses of orthodox neoclassical economics. If the belief that markets automatically reach equilibrium were true, then wages would automatically fall until everybody had a job. Rather than acknowledge the real world, orthodox economists simply declare involuntary unemployment an “illusion,” or claim “government interference” with the market is the culprit. “Business cycles were around long before trade unions or big-spending governments were,” Professor Kuttner noted.

Wages are not as flexible as orthodox ideology suggests because within an enterprise preference is ordinarily given to existing workers to fill job openings, thereby buffering wages from external market forces, writes another heterodox economist, Herbert Gintis. In an essay originally appearing in Review of Radical Political Economics, he wrote:

“In particular, there is a tendency for the number of individuals qualified for a position to exceed the number of jobs available, in which case seniority and other administrative rules are used to determine promotion. Hardly do workers compete for the job by bidding down its wage.”

In almost all cases, employees do not even know what wages their co-workers are earning. This top-down secrecy facilitates the disparity in wages, whereby, for example, women earn less than men. If everybody earned what they were worth, there would no such wage disparity. The very fact of disparities between the genders or among races and ethnicities demonstrates the ideological basis of orthodox economics, which assumes that employees who do the work of production are in their jobs due to personal choice and wages are based only on individual achievement independent of race, gender and other differences.

You produce more but don’t earn more

Back in the real world, wages have significantly lagged productivity for four decades; thus, wages, examined against this benchmark, have significantly declined for those four decades. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, written by heterodox economist Elise Gould, reports:

“Between 1979 and 2013, productivity [in the U.S.] grew 64.9 percent, while hourly compensation of production and nonsupervisory workers, who comprise over 80 percent of the private-sector workforce, grew just 8.0 percent. Productivity thus grew eight times faster than typical worker compensation.” [page 4]

Middle-class U.S. households earn $18,000 less than they would had wages kept pace with productivity, Dr. Gould calculates. Nor is that unique to the U.S.: Wages in Canada, Europe and Japan have also fallen well short of productivity gains. Canadian workers, for example, are paid at least $15,000 per year less than they would be had their wages kept pace.

To circle back to the San Francisco Federal Reserve paper that began this discussion, the authors claim that wage stagnation will persist until markets “return to normal.” They assert:

“[T]he accumulated stockpile of pent-up wage cuts remains and must be worked off to put the labor market back in balance. In response, businesses hold back wage increases and wait for inflation and productivity growth to bring wages closer to their desired level.”

But as we can plainly see, and as those of us living in the real world experience, wages cuts have been the norm for a long time. The caveat at the end of the paper that it does not necessarily reflect the views of the Fed board of governors should be noted, but the paper was issued as part of a regular series by the San Francisco Fed and the authors are senior members of it, so it is not likely to be at variance with opinions there. It certainly does reflect orthodox economic ideology. Similarly, the argument by the Austrian School’s Mises Institute, stripped of its academic-sounding veneer, is a call to eliminate the minimum wage.

Stagnation, declining wages and the ability of capitalists to shift production around the globe in a search for the lowest wages and lowest safety standards — completely ignored in the orthodox hunt for economic scapegoats — are the norm. Our need to sell our labor, the resulting reduction of human beings’ labor power to a commodity, and the endless competitive pressures on capitalists to boost profits underlie the present economic difficulties.

Collective bargaining through unions and the needs of capitalists to retain their employees can be brakes against the race to the bottom — what the orthodox economists at the Fed and elsewhere are arguing is that these remaining brakes be removed and wages driven down to starvation levels. That is what global capitalism has to offer.

Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog. He has been an activist with several groups.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/20/the-new-american-way-work-harder-for-less-pay/

Obama’s terror summit: An exercise in hypocrisy, falsification and self-delusion

134006055_14243044576801n

20 February 2015

President Barack Obama, on both Wednesday and Thursday, addressed sessions of a summit on “countering violent extremism” convened in Washington and attended by representatives of 65 countries.

While repeatedly insisting on the need to talk “squarely and honestly” about “root causes” of terrorism, the American president’s remarks amounted to a string of barely coherent banalities—including quotations from a Valentine’s Day card from a 12-year-old—all aimed at covering up the incontrovertible causal connection between terrorism and the chain of catastrophes unleashed by US wars of aggression over the past decade.

The three-day talk shop involved no decisions, commitments or changes in policy. Threadbare rhetoric about religious inclusion was joined with laughable tips on how to recognize a young person being swung to “radical extremism” that seemed to have been cribbed from a Drug Enforcement Administration brochure on warning signs that your child may be using marijuana.

To the extent that the gathering had a discernible purpose, it was to bolster propaganda justifications for continuing war abroad and police state measures at home.

Obama vowed that the US would remain “unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations,” outlining plans to continue and expand US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and beyond.

He argued that the crusade against “violent extremism” was to be waged not just against “terrorists who are killing innocent people,” but also at the “ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists—the propagandists, recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence,” a category so broad and ill-defined as to potentially include virtually anyone who condemns the supposedly “moderate” policies of US imperialism.

The contradictions underlying the propaganda exercise were beyond glaring. Obama proclaimed in his speech that the struggle against terrorism required “more democracy” and “security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity.” Yet Washington counts as its closest allies in this struggle the tyrannical monarchy in Saudi Arabia and the military-controlled regime that rules Egypt, infamous for their repression, beheadings and mass killings.

Obama absurdly attempted to present terrorism as the product of “twisted ideologies” of groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS along with mistaken “ideas,” “notions,” and “strains of thought” among broader sections of the Muslim world.

“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” Obama insisted in his remarks. Indeed, Washington is an equal opportunity aggressor. It is preparing even bigger wars against non-Muslims from Eastern Europe to East Asia.

This “notion” may have arisen from the fact that the populations residing in countries containing some of the world’s greatest energy reserves as well as pipeline routes for their extraction happen to be majority Muslim, and therefore have borne the tragic brunt of Washington’s drive to militarily assert hegemony over these lands.

The struggle against terrorism, Obama stated, requires confronting the fact that too many people “buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances—sometimes that’s accurate—… buy into the the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy …”

Historical grievances? Who does Obama think he’s kidding? Millions throughout the Arab world do not have to harken back to French and British colonialists in pith helmets when it comes to grievances. In recent decades, US imperialism has laid waste to one predominantly Muslim country after another.

It thrust Afghanistan into never-ending carnage that has killed millions since the US-sponsored mujahideen war of the 1980s. In Iraq, it carried out an illegal war of aggression that claimed over a million lives. In Libya it backed a war for regime change that left the society in ruins and ravaged by armed conflict between rival militias. And in Syria, it has stoked a civil war that has killed nearly 200,000 and turned millions into refugees.

In Iraq, Libya and Syria, Washington has carried out interventions to overthrow secular Arab regimes, acting as the catalyst for the growth of Islamist forces like Al Qaeda and ISIS. In the last two countries, it actually armed and supported these elements, using them as proxy forces.

If the top officials in the Bush and Obama administration had been paid agents of Osama bin Laden, they could not have done a better job at promoting the rise of those ostensibly targeted by the US-sponsored summit against “violent extremism.”

All of the hypocrisy, deceit and self-delusion on display at this week’s summit could not mask the fact that the policies pursued by Washington over more than a decade have resulted in a debacle.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, US imperialism embarked on a series of escalating interventions based on the conception that it could use its military superiority to offset its economic decline. The end result has been havoc and destruction.

This extends now to Ukraine which has been plunged into a civil war that has torn the country in two as its economy implodes and its army disintegrates, and which threatens to draw the US and nuclear-armed Russia into military confrontation. Washington’s fostering of a fascist-led coup to effect regime change in Kiev, portrayed as a master stroke a year ago, has only produced another disaster.

In any functioning democracy, there would be consequences for global catastrophes on the order of those produced by the last two US administrations. They would not only be the subject of public debate and congressional hearings, but the cause of forced resignations and criminal prosecutions.

In the US, there is nothing. There is no mechanism for any criticism of a government that only continues lying to the public and lying to itself. No one takes responsibility, and no one is held accountable.

With next year’s presidential campaign taking shape, the front-runners are Republican Jeb Bush, whose brother oversaw the criminal war in Iraq, and Democrat Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state hailed the savage lynch-mob murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi by an Islamist militia, declaring amid gales of laughter, “We came, we saw, he died.” There could be no clearer measure of the sclerotic character of the US political system.

Responsibility extends beyond the White House, Congress and the two major parties to the media, whose “terrorism experts” continuously churn out lies and drivel justifying US militarism, and to academia, which remains either directly complicit or silent.

That every section of the US ruling establishment is deeply implicated in these crimes and catastrophes is symptomatic of profound economic, social and political crises gripping a capitalist system that is fully subordinated to the enrichment of a tiny minority engaged in financial parasitism at the expense of working people, the vast majority of the population.

With no progressive solution to these crises, the American ruling class is driven toward even more bloody military adventures, posing the increasing threat of the ultimate act of “violent extremism,” a Third World War.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/02/20/pers-f20.html