Thursday, February 21, 2008

Voice From The Back: Ten Wasted Years (2008)

Voice From The Back column from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard


Socialists have always stressed that supporting schemes of reforms will not fundamentally change the nature of capitalism and here comes an official capitalist institution whose findings back up that view. "There are 1.4 million children living below the poverty line in Britain, even though at least one of their parents has a job. Despite the changes to taxes and benefits, and the introduction of the national minimum wage, the number of poor children in working households is no lower than in 1997, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research says." (London Times, 3 January)


Politicians ever ready to seek the votes of little-Englanders often speak about the problem of immigrants from abroad coming to this country and causing problems such as housing, medical care and education. We imagine these politicians will completely ignore this type of immigration though. "Lev Leviev, who until a week ago was classified as the richest man in Israel, has joined the growing list of Israeli billionaires who have made their homes in London, where wealthy foreigners are not asked to pay tax on income earned overseas. This month, Mr Leviev officially moved into a bullet-proof house in Hampstead, which he bought for £35m. His near neighbours include several other mega-rich Israeli tycoons who prefer UK tax rates. In Israel, they are liable for tax on all their income, no matter where it is from. ...News of his departure has shocked the Israeli business community and created a political headache for its government, because of the drain of wealth from Tel Aviv to London. Among those who have made their homes in London are Zvi Meitar, the founder of one of Israel's biggest law firms; Benny Steinmitz, a diamond dealer and property tycoon; Yigal Zilka, head of Queenco Leisure International; and the real estate developer, Sammy Shimon." (Independent, 8 January)


Socialists have always maintained that countries like Russia and China that have claimed to be establishing socialism were in fact building up state capitalism, and now a pillar of US capitalism agrees with us that China has nothing to do with socialism. "The spending choices for China's rich are multiplying as quickly as the world's fastest-growing major economy can mint new tycoons.In the latest sign of China's rising upper crust and its growing appeal to international marketers, Robb Report, a self-declared catalogue of the best of the best for the richest of the rich, is making its pitch here with a Chinese-language edition. The 200-plus-page Chinese monthly, published under the name Robb Report Lifestyle, is packed with news, product placements and advertising that promotes elite brands such as Volkswagen AG's Bugatti sports cars and L├╝rssen yachts." (Wall Street Journal, 9 January)


"Accidents in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines killed nearly 3,800 people last year, state media reported Saturday – a toll that is a marked improvement from previous years, but still leaves China's mines the world's deadliest. A total of 3,786 were killed in mining accidents in 2007 – 20 percent lower than the 2006 toll, indicating the effectiveness of a safety campaign to shut small, illegal mining operations and reduce gas explosions, the Xinhua News Agency quoted the head of China's government safety watchdog as saying. Coal is the lifeblood of China's booming, energy-hungry economy. The mining industry's safety, which has never been good, has often suffered as mine owners push to dig up more coal to take advantage of higher prices." (Yahoo News, 12 January) The development of capitalism in China has led to more deaths amongst the working class. Surprise, surprise?


The future of global warming is a complex subject, but many experts believe the growth of carbon emissions could lead to disaster. One of the supporters of that notion is the World Bank with its various schemes to halt or lessen these emmissions, but their difficulty is that they also support the profit system so they are left in a contradictory position. "The World Bank has emerged as one of the key backers behind an explosion of cattle ranching in the Amazon, which new research has identified as the greatest threat to the survival of the rainforest. Ranching has grown by half in the last three years, driven by new industrial slaughterhouses which are being constructed in the Amazon basin with the help of the World Bank. The revelation flies in the face of claims from the bank that it is funding efforts to halt deforestation and reduce the massive greenhouse gas emissions it causes. Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth Brazil and lead author of the new report, obtained exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, said the bank's contradictory policy on forests was now clear: "On the one hand you try and save the forest, on the other you give incentives for its conversion." (Independent on Sunday, 13 January)


In a sane society technological advances would be looked upon as a step forward for humanity, but we don't live in a sane society. We live in capitalism. Simon Caulkin the Management Editor of the Observer reveals some alarming outcomes of such technical progress. "More than half of all UK employees – 52 per cent – are now subject to computer surveillance at work, according to research from the Economic and Social Research Council's "Future of Work" programme. That's a remarkable figure, and it has lead to a sharp increase in strain among those being monitored – particularly white-collar administrative staff. ... Substantial pay rises for most managers contrast with static or even declining wages for low-end computer-monitored workers, who are working harder, and longer hours, into the bargain." (Observer, 13 January)


Men and women because of poverty are forced to work for wages. Inside Europe and North America they have to do as they are told by their masters, to turn up on time to be respectful and if asked to do so cringe, but it is even worse for our African comrades."Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations." (New York Times, 14 January) Men and women of the working class are dying to be exploited. Let us get rid of this mad society. 6.000 died last year, how many this year?

What it is ain’t exactly clear

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website:
If we may go by the trend emerging from the presidential primary results so far, we very likely will see the end of the CheneyBush era next November. Voters both Democratic and Republican have turned out in large, often record-breaking numbers to make preliminary choices from among the presidential candidates who have offered themselves. This is a healthy democratic trend.
According to the Pew Research Center, the upsurge in voter interest is sharpest and heaviest on the Democratic side and therefore concerns a much larger constituency than on the Republican side. More interesting, younger Democratic voters "are considerably more likely than their elders to be Hispanic, and slightly more likely to be black, more apt to say they have no religious affiliation and more likely to say they are 'liberal' in their political orientation."
Not only that, but across the board regardless of race or ethnicity, "Barack Obama won a majority of the 2008 vote among this [younger] age group in every state that has held a primary or caucus thus far with the exception of California, Arkansas, and Massachusetts Obama also had a 54%-43% advantage among the next youngest age group, those ages 30-44."
Does this suggest that the Democratic Party is about to become the party of the working class, the sacred vessel of its political interests? Hardly. The Pew Center also notes that their attitudes with respect to the 2008 campaign are not very different from those of their elders and their issue priorities very similar to those of older voters. There is every likelihood, in other words, that young voters will hand over their brains to Those Who Think About These Things.
That said, turnout records "have been smashed in Iowa and New Hampshire" and many other places since then. So we are apparently about to witness another exercise in Throwing The Rascals Out (to get New Rascals in). But as the above analysis make clear, the pristine energy that is obviously emerging onto the political scene will have nowhere to go and is likely as not to dissipate in a flounder of confusion.
The CheneyBush Administration is an easy villain. The corporate/religious right alliance, as the Mitt Romney debacle suggests, is about to come unglued. Even now, Republicans are scrambling to whitewash themselves as "moderate" (without, however, ceding the point that political elections are mainly about economic issues, which would condemn them to outsider status in perpetuity). But while seeing a light at the end of the tunnel might bring a sigh of relief, the fine points of the above trend imply anything but a radical shift in perspective.
Still less, therefore, do they imply any increased receptiveness to the socialist point of view. Abolishing capital and wages in favor of community ownership of the means of production, real democracy and free access to the means of life are still on another planet, in another universe or in the "distant future" for most people. Take off the blindfolds, of course, and the changeover is already practically at hand. As it is, the night is only perhaps a little less dark again. It will probably take a much bigger crisis (global warming maybe?) to rock the capitalist political establishment. So treat yourself to an extra beer, but don't get too ecstatic.
Ron Elbert

Buying People (2008)

Book Review from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking and Resistance' by Louisa Waugh

The Olga of the title is a Moldovan woman who was earning 35p a day working in an outdoor market. In desperation she and a friend replied to a newspaper ad promising well-paid jobs abroad, and were told they would be caring for elderly people in Italy. They ended up being sold to a bar-owner in Kosovo, where they were forced to work as prostitutes. After two years Olga managed to escape and returned to her home town, where she was housed and supported by the International Organisation for Migration. During her time in Kosovo she was beaten so badly that she lost almost 70 per cent of her sight.

Louisa Waugh's book is full of appalling stories such as this, of women trafficked into the sex industry and forced to 'repay' those who arranged their journey and employment. Not all trafficking involves sex slaves, however, and many of those smuggled to other countries work in construction and agriculture, among other industries. The International Labour Office estimates that two and a half million people are caught up in trafficking, though others give far higher figures. In Moldova it has become one of the largest national industries, while Albania is another big source of trafficked women.

And what are the causes of this shocking 'industry'? One is the fact that many men are willing to pay for sex, so pimps can make a profit from it. But on the supply side the answer is one simple word: poverty. Waugh quotes the director of an organisation called the Useful Women of Albania: "Women are trafficked from Albania because they are desperate to leave in the first place . . .if women are living here in poverty and they have nothing, then they will sell the only thing they can make money from: their own bodies." The line between those who are trafficked and those who migrate 'freely' is a thin one. A report for Save the Children referred to "a steady rise in emigration for voluntary prostitution abroad in order to escape poverty and bleak futures in Albania." But prostitution can rarely be voluntary in any real sense, and few of the women who migrate in order to earn money from selling sex are prepared for precisely what awaits them.

Many governments in Western Europe, including the UK, have addressed the problem of trafficking by cracking down on illegal immigration. But this has only led to the creation of an underclass of undocumented migrants, a group which includes those who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004. Forced labour — not confined to sex work — is an important part of the British economy, for capitalism wants cheap and pliant labour power. The extremes to which it will sometimes go to obtain it, graphically depicted in Waugh's pages, show why it's necessary to get rid of this diabolical system.
Paul Bennett
Further Reading:

  • Use My Name "Two women, Olga in Moldova and Bright from Nigeria, talk to Louisa Waugh about their experiences." (From the September 2007 issue of the New Internationalist.)