Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ireland: Keep Water Free

From Infoshop:

http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=2010ie-water

Thursday, March 25 2010 @ 05:59 AM UTC

Contributed by: Admin

Workers Solidarity 114

The ruling class strategy of making working people pay for the crisis has seen public and private sector pay cuts, job losses, welfare reductions and slashing of important services like special needs assistants for children with physical and mental problems. Coming soon, if Cowan and Gormley have their way, is the return of a domestic water tax.

About 100 people attended an anti-water charges forum called by Socialist MEP Joe Higgins in February. We discussed building opposition to this latest attempt by the wealthy to put their hands into our pockets.

15 years ago a mass campaign of non-payment, which the Workers Solidarity Movement helped to organise, forced the Fine Gael/Labour government to abolish water charges. There is no timetable for bringing in the new tax but it’s expected to be within the next year or two. The first step will be trying to install meters in each house.

This is so they can pretend it’s “environmental”. The plan is to start off with households being allocated a "free" allowance of water and only when they use more than this amount will they start paying. We can be sure that’s just a temporary measure, as demonstrated recently by the introduction of charges in Dublin for bin waiver holders.

The real purpose is to generate an “income stream” and eventually privatise water supply. That‘s what happened with water supply in Britain and it’s what happened here with refuse services.

Speaking to the forum Michael Taft, Research Officer of the UNITE trade union, reminded us of the huge differences of wealth in Ireland, where the top 5% own 40% of all wealth and the top 1% have 33% of all the financial wealth. He also pointed out that service charges are part of the ongoing transfer of wealth from working people to the rich.

Environmental engineer Maurice Sweeney rubbished the Green argument that ordinary people waste water. The real waste is down to the crap state of mains water pipes in much of the country. About 35% of all drinking water is lost through leaks. Some of this is down to aging Victorian pipes not being replaced, while some is down to letting building firms on state contacts get away with incredibly low standards in recent years.

He explained that there is no evidence to suggest that meters will lead to a reduction in consumption. A good example is England and Scotland, where water use per household is slightly more than in Ireland, despite the fact that they have meters and charges in these countries already. Meters, he said, were simply a tool to charge for water.

Everyone at the forum seemed to be agreed that mass non-payment must the basis of a national campaign. The government is getting ready, and so are we. A large number of those present volunteered to be part of an interim organising committee to discuss, in detail, the nuts and bolts of building a campaign.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Capitalist crisis invades public education

From Worker's World
http://www.workers.org/2010/us/public_education_0325/

By Fred Goldstein
Published Mar 18, 2010 9:02 PM

Capitalism is leaving tens of millions of workers without jobs. It is also abandoning millions of children to flounder in a chaotic education system, buffeted by school closings and teacher firings.

The capitalist government in Washington has sharply escalated its ongoing assault on the public education system. Using the budget crisis as leverage and seizing on the deteriorating quality of schools in impoverished districts, government officials have intensified the campaign for charter-school privatization, school closings, and the firing of teachers and staff across the country.


But the attack is not on all public education. Virtually all the target schools and school districts are in impoverished communities marginalized by capitalism, especially those that are heavily African-American and Latino/a.

The ax falls on Kansas City

The Kansas City, Mo., school board announced on March 10 that it will close 29 of its 61 public schools. About 700 jobs will be cut, including 285 teachers. The targeted school district is majority African-American.

This school district has long been drained by redistricting and the flight to private schools and charter schools. It has been sued for racial discrimination. Its school population has gone from 77,000 to 13,400. The drop in enrollment, caused by poverty and privatization, and the budget crisis are being used as a pretext to further victimize children and their families by these brutal school closings.

The crisis goes beyond Kansas City. On Feb. 23, the school board in Central Falls, R.I., announced that all its 93 teachers, administrators and support staff would be fired. The Central Falls school district is majority Latino/a. Other schools in Rhode Island are also under threat, including in Providence.

On March 4, Boston school officials announced that all the teachers and staff at six public schools would have to reapply for their jobs. These six schools are among 35 on a target list as “underperforming.” The schools on the list face closures, firings and state takeovers.

Cleveland plans 13 school closings. This includes breaking up high schools into “academies,” leaving a big opening for charter schools to move into the vacuum and get public funds.

These examples could be multiplied many times over, from Detroit to Atlanta, Reno, Los Angeles, New York City — virtually across the country.

Rat race to the top

The immediate trigger is the $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund established by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama publicly praised the drastic firing of all the teachers in the Central Falls high school as an example of progress in education reform.

The Race to the Top is a continuation of the No Child Left Behind program initiated by George W. Bush. Bush promoted charter schools, school vouchers and breaking union contracts — using merit pay and other devices — under the guise of improving teacher performance.

The Race to the Top goes further. It specifies that states can apply for grants if they adopt one of the models specified by the program. These models include moving toward charter schools; firing the teaching staff and then allowing them to reapply for their jobs, but not hiring back more than 50 percent of those fired; and closing “underperforming” schools.

This has touched off a rat race among government officials to get grant money by attacking teachers, closing schools, opening up to charter schools, using school vouchers to pay for private schools, and taking other measures to undermine public education and teacher organization.

This reactionary development is an attempt to select out a small percentage of students for exposure to a superior education while leaving the vast majority behind. Those left behind are overwhelmingly children of the poor and the oppressed. This reality is exactly the opposite of what these programs promised.

It is also important to note the motor force for charter schools: handing over the education system to private companies. It is not about these schools’ level of achievement.

To date, the most authoritative study of charter schools was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University in 2009. The report is the first detailed national assessment of charter schools. It analyzed 70 percent of U.S.-based students attending charter schools and compared the academic progress of those students with that of demographically matched students in nearby public schools. The report found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46 percent showed no difference from public schools; and 37 percent were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts.

The authors of the report considered this a “sobering” finding about the quality of charter schools in the United States. Charter schools showed a significantly greater variation in quality as compared with the more standardized public schools. Many charter schools fell below public school performances and a few exceeded them significantly.

Privatization: ‘The Big Enchilada’

Jonathan Kozol, a well-known authority on public schools and author of the book “Death at an Early Age,” wrote an article entitled “The Big Enchilada” for Harper’s magazine of August 2007. It was about reading a stock market prospectus. Kozol wrote:

“A group of analysts at an investment banking firm known as Montgomery Securities described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. ‘The education industry,’ according to these analysts, ‘represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control’ that ‘have either voluntarily opened’ or, they note in pointed terms, have ‘been forced’ to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, ‘the education industry represents the largest market opportunity’ since health care services were privatized during the 1970s.

“Referring to private education companies as ‘EMOs’ (Education Management Organizations), they note that college education also offers some ‘attractive investment returns’ for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. ‘The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers,’ which, they emphasize, ‘are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers.’ From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, ‘the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada.’” (See FIST statement, “Defend Education from ‘Disaster Capitalism,’” in the Workers World of March 4.)

These two items speak volumes about the Race to the Top program. It is an attempt to put a big part of the public school system on a corporate model of cutthroat competition. The funds for the education of poor children are the object of this competition.

This model has public school officials marketing their schools to the community to fend off the competition of charter schools. New York’s Harlem is a prime target of charter schools and has put the public schools under enormous pressure.

For example, “River East Elementary on East 120th Street draws students throughout Harlem and typically has more applicants than seats. But at this time of year, staff members spend hours scurrying to day care centers, churches and apartment complexes to find prospective parents, said Katie Smith, the assistant principal. ‘We have to be out there constantly representing ourselves,’ Ms. Smith said.” (New York Times, March 10)

The net result is that the capitalist establishment is using the economic crisis to accomplish three things: to wring profits out of the public education system; to solve its budget crisis on the backs of the people by closing schools; and to open up an anti-union campaign against the teachers by driving them into non-union charter schools and weakening the contracts of those who remain in the public system.

This crisis demonstrates many things about the capitalist system at its present stage of crisis, when the opportunity for profitable investment in the real economy of production is narrowed by the crisis of overproduction and the saturation of markets.

It shows that the vultures of finance capital will find every avenue possible to raid the public treasury in pursuit of profit, including forcing a crisis on the education system.

This hurts students, parents, teachers and communities. This is the basis on which to unite against this plan of divide and conquer. It calls for a united mobilization to defend public education and make the bankers and bosses pay for a quality education for all.

This is the richest country in the world, with a $14 trillion economy. There are hundreds of billions available for the schools. But these funds are being pocketed by the banks, the Pentagon, the corporations. There is enough money to give everyone a quality education.

Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Unionists resist police attacks, fight austerity in Greece

From Worker's World

Published Mar 14, 2010 7:29 PM

The Greek Parliament passed a very stringent set of austerity measures March 5 that will cut public-sector salaries and freeze pensions for both public- and private-sector workers, cut services and raise taxes.

Public service workers will have their salaries cut by almost 15 percent and the retirement age for all workers will go up by two years.

The Communist-affiliated labor confederation PAME (All-Workers Militant Front), to which a number of public service workers belong, called a 24-hour strike on March 5 to protest Parliament passing this attack on workers. PAME held a mass demonstration at Syntagma Square in Athens’ center that morning, with other demonstrations and rallies in more than 62 cities throughout Greece.

Earlier, they had held a massive sit-in at the Ministry of Finance building in Athens and at a number of other government buildings throughout the country. On March 6 PAME members began occupying government printing offices to keep the austerity bill from being printed. (Agence France Presse, March 6).

Combined with the half-day strikes called by the biggest labor union confederation, GSEE, and the civil servants’ union, ADEDY, this action stopped mass transit, closed schools and limited service at hospitals. French television reported that Athens suffered from “a monster traffic jam” all day.

On March 5 in the afternoon there was a police attack on the rally called by the GSEE and ADEDY. The cops were shown on television using batons and tear gas, as well as kicking protesters, who fought back energetically, throwing stones and bottles at the cops. There were at least five arrests and seven cops injured.

Eighty-seven-year-old WWII resistance hero and former MP Manolis Glezos was hospitalized after a cop sprayed him with tear gas. (www.ekathimerini.com)

The Greek unions have announced another general strike for March 11.

“It is a tragedy for the people to lose their rights, to see their wages being cut down despite the long lasting struggles in the previous years, despite the sacrifices that led even to bloodshed. But above all it is a disgrace — and we do not believe that this will happen — for these barbarous measures to pass without the people’s resistance, without the people’s counterattack and even more so to give the impression that the people consent to these measures,” stressed Aleka Papariga, the leader of the Communist Party of Greece, at a special press conference. (inter.kke.gr)


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Friday, March 12, 2010

ALL OUT! March 20 anti-war actions

From Workers's World

Published Mar 11, 2010 9:59 PM

U.S. imperialism’s crimes against the Iraqi people are so great that no amount of lying in the corporate media can wipe them out. That doesn’t stop these manufacturers of instant misinformation from trying. They have hypocritically presented a patently fraudulent election, held under an occupying power and administered by a puppet regime, as a sterling example of democracy and courage.

There are still nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq seven years after the illegal aggression, plus an equal number of “contractors” — mercenaries. The U.S. occupation has left more than 1 million dead and created 5 million refugees. It has exacerbated ethnic and religious differences leading to the brink of a partition of the country. Its puppet regime has been pressured to pass laws turning over Iraqi natural wealth to imperialist concerns, thus sowing the seeds of a potential civil war.

But the corporate media, by apparent prior agreement, writes glowingly of Iraqis dipping their fingers in ink as if the election were a proof of Iraqi sovereignty.

All the more reason why anyone who opposed this war at the beginning, and the millions more who want it over with now, should head to the protest in Washington or other regional centers on March 20 to make their voices as strong and dramatic as they can.

Just as in the days of war criminal George W. Bush, a Republican, U.S. wars and occupations continue in Iraq under the Democratic Party administration, even expanding in Afghanistan and stretching into Pakistan. The Pentagon is also intervening in Somalia and Yemen and continually threatening Iran, with or without a first strike by the Israeli military. Not to speak of other interventions threatened in the Caribbean, South America and the Pacific.

In this period, the workers in the United States have been hit with the worst capitalist recession since the 1930s — one in which a short-lived recovery for the stock market has brought no recovery to the job market, despite colossal bailouts to the banks and brokerage houses by the Obama administration. This crisis at home has focused attention here on the desperate economic questions facing the working class and oppressed peoples.

But there is no way to separate the need to fight imperialist war from the need to struggle on basic economic issues. The two struggles must be carried on simultaneously and intertwined.

The March 20 demonstrations, in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, called by the Answer Coalition to mark the seventh anniversary of the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq, raise the slogans: U.S. Out of Afghanistan and Iraq; Free Palestine; Reparations for Haiti; and Money for Health Care, Jobs and Education. Many other anti-imperialist, anti-war, community and progressive organizations have endorsed these actions, including the International Action Center and the Bail Out the People Movement.

Workers World has endorsed them, too, and calls again upon the working-class and progressive people to mobilize participation in them throughout the country.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Calling All Rebels

From Truthdig.com

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/calling_all_rebels_20100308/

Posted on Mar 8, 2010

By Chris Hedges

There are no constraints left to halt America’s slide into a totalitarian capitalism. Electoral politics are a sham. The media have been debased and defanged by corporate owners. The working class has been impoverished and is now being plunged into profound despair. The legal system has been corrupted to serve corporate interests. Popular institutions, from labor unions to political parties, have been destroyed or emasculated by corporate power. And any form of protest, no matter how tepid, is blocked by an internal security apparatus that is starting to rival that of the East German secret police. The mounting anger and hatred, coursing through the bloodstream of the body politic, make violence and counter-violence inevitable. Brace yourself. The American empire is over. And the descent is going to be horrifying.

Those singled out as internal enemies will include people of color, immigrants, gays, intellectuals, feminists, Jews, Muslims, union leaders and those defined as “liberals.” They will be condemned as anti-American and blamed for our decline. The economic collapse, which remains mysterious and enigmatic to most Americans, will be pinned by demagogues and hatemongers on these hapless scapegoats. And the random acts of violence, which are already leaping up around the fringes of American society, will justify harsh measures of internal control that will snuff out the final vestiges of our democracy. The corporate forces that destroyed the country will use the information systems they control to mask their culpability. The old game of blaming the weak and the marginal, a staple of despotic regimes, will empower the dark undercurrents of sadism and violence within American society and deflect attention from the corporate vampires that have drained the blood of the country.

“We are going to be poorer,” David Cay Johnston told me. Johnston was the tax reporter of The New York Times for 13 years and has written on how the corporate state rigged the system against us. He is the author of “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With the Bill,” a book about hidden subsidies, rigged markets and corporate socialism. “Health care is going to eat up more and more of our income. We are going to have less and less for other things. We are going to have some huge disasters sooner or later caused by our failure to invest. Dams and bridges will break. Buildings will collapse. There are water mains that are 25 to 50 feet wide. There will be huge infrastructure disasters. Our intellectual resources are in decline. We are failing to educate young people and instill in them rigor. We are going to continue to pour money into the military. I think it is possible, I do not say it is probable, that we will have a revolution, a civil war that will see the end of the United States of America.”

“If we see the end of this country it will come from the right and our failure to provide people with the basic necessities of life,” said Johnston. “Revolutions occur when young men see the present as worse than the unknown future. We are not there. But it will not take a lot to get there. The politicians running for office who are denigrating the government, who are saying there are traitors in Congress, who say we do not need the IRS, this when no government in the history of the world has existed without a tax enforcement agency, are sowing the seeds for the destruction of the country. A lot of the people on the right hate the United States of America. They would say they hate the people they are arrayed against. But the whole idea of the United States is that we criticize the government. We remake it to serve our interests. They do not want that kind of society. They reject, as Aristotle said, the idea that democracy is to rule and to be ruled in turns. They see a world where they are right and that is it. If we do not want to do it their way we should be vanquished. This is not the idea on which the United States was founded.”

It is hard to see how this can be prevented. The engines of social reform are dead. Liberal apologists, who long ago should have abandoned the Democratic Party, continue to make pathetic appeals to a tone-deaf corporate state and Barack Obama while the working and middle class are ruthlessly stripped of rights, income and jobs. Liberals self-righteously condemn imperial wars and the looting of the U.S. Treasury by Wall Street but not the Democrats who are responsible. And the longer the liberal class dithers and speaks in the bloodless language of policies and programs, the more hated and irrelevant it becomes. No one has discredited American liberalism more than liberals themselves. And I do not hold out any hope for their reform. We have entered an age in which, as William Butler Yeats wrote, “the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

“If we end up with violence in the streets on a large scale, not random riots, but insurrection and things break down, there will be a coup d’├ętat from the right,” Johnston said. “We have already had an economic coup d’├ętat. It will not take much to go further.”

How do we resist? How, if this descent is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we fight back? Why should we resist at all? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not carve out as comfortable a niche as possible within the embrace of the corporate state and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs? The power elite, including most of those who graduate from our top universities and our liberal and intellectual classes, have sold out for personal comfort. Why not us?

The French moral philosopher Albert Camus argued that we are separated from each other. Our lives are meaningless. We cannot influence fate. We will all die and our individual being will be obliterated. And yet Camus wrote that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warned. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”

The rebel, for Camus, stands with the oppressed—the unemployed workers being thrust into impoverishment and misery by the corporate state, the Palestinians in Gaza, the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappeared who are held in our global black sites, the poor in our inner cities and depressed rural communities, immigrants and those locked away in our prison system. And to stand with them does not mean to collaborate with parties, such as the Democrats, who can mouth the words of justice while carrying out acts of oppression. It means open and direct defiance.

The power structure and its liberal apologists dismiss the rebel as impractical and see the rebel’s outsider stance as counterproductive. They condemn the rebel for expressing anger at injustice. The elites and their apologists call for calm and patience. They use the hypocritical language of spirituality, compromise, generosity and compassion to argue that the only alternative is to accept and work with the systems of power. The rebel, however, is beholden to a moral commitment that makes it impossible to stand with the power elite. The rebel refuses to be bought off with foundation grants, invitations to the White House, television appearances, book contracts, academic appointments or empty rhetoric. The rebel is not concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The rebel knows that, as Augustine wrote, hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage—anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. The rebel is aware that virtue is not rewarded. The act of rebellion defines itself.

“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career,” Vaclav Havel said when he battled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. “You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. ... The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin—and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.”

Those in power have disarmed the liberal class. They do not argue that the current system is just or good, because they cannot, but they have convinced liberals that there is no alternative. But we are not slaves. We have a choice. We can refuse to be either a victim or an executioner. We have the moral capacity to say no, to refuse to cooperate. Any boycott or demonstration, any occupation or sit-in, any strike, any act of obstruction or sabotage, any refusal to pay taxes, any fast, any popular movement and any act of civil disobedience ignites the soul of the rebel and exposes the dead hand of authority. “There is beauty and there are the humiliated,” Camus wrote. “Whatever difficulties the enterprise may present, I should like never to be unfaithful either to the second or the first.”

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop,” Mario Savio said in 1964. “And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, the capacity to refuse to cooperate, offers us the only route left to personal freedom and a life with meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. Those of us who come out of the religious left have no quarrel with Camus. Camus is right about the absurdity of existence, right about finding worth in the act of rebellion rather than some bizarre dream of an afterlife or Sunday School fantasy that God rewards the just and the good. “Oh my soul,” the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.” We differ with Camus only in that we have faith that rebellion is not ultimately meaningless. Rebellion allows us to be free and independent human beings, but rebellion also chips away, however imperceptibly, at the edifice of the oppressor and sustains the dim flames of hope and love. And in moments of profound human despair these flames are never insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. We must become, as Camus said, so absolutely free that “existence is an act of rebellion.” Those who do not rebel in our age of totalitarian capitalism and who convince themselves that there is no alternative to collaboration are complicit in their own enslavement. They commit spiritual and moral suicide.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

30 million seek work

From Workers World

http://www.workers.org/2010/us/jobless_0311/

Jobs program needed

Gallup Poll shows gov’t hides real figures

Published Mar 3, 2010 9:29 PM

A Gallup Poll released on Feb. 23 revealed that in January 30 million workers in the U.S. were either on forced part-time or out of work altogether. This number, based on a poll of over 20,000 adults over the age of 18 and conducted from Jan. 2 to Jan. 31, amounts to 20 percent of the workforce.

Conducted by one of the most prestigious and conservative polling institutions in the capitalist world, the poll used samples taken from all regions of the country and all age groups.

No wonder this poll was barely mentioned in the big-business press. It shows that the government is undercounting millions of workers who suffer from the unemployment/underemployment crisis. It documents, at a minimum, that the statisticians in the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Bureau of Economic Research have been dishonest about the true level of unemployment.

This Gallup Poll also shows the racist disparities that have been made worse by the economic crisis. It reveals African-American and Latino/a underemployment to be 27 percent and 29 percent respectively, compared to white underemployment at 17 percent. There was nothing revealed about immigrant workers, but other studies have shown a drastic increase in underemployment among undocumented workers in particular, especially those in the construction industry.

According to government agencies, the level of what is called “total unemployment,” a measurement called U-6, is only 16.5 percent, not the 20 percent revealed in the Gallup Poll.

To make things worse, it is important to know that the official government number for “total unemployment” includes not only workers who are unemployed plus those who are forced to work part time when they need a full-time job, but also those who have dropped out of the workforce because they have given up looking.


chart

According to AOL News online, “What’s striking about the Gallup numbers is that the polls didn’t even include people out of work so long they are no longer counted in the workforce.” In the month of January, according to the government, 1.1 million workers were officially classified as “discouraged workers.”

Thus the Gallup Poll itself is an undercount if the official government number of 1.1 million workers who have given up looking for a job is added to the 30 million compiled by Gallup.

4.4 million workers drop out

Yet the government coverup is even wider than would appear from the Gallup Poll. The Economic Policy Institute, whose former head, Jared Bernstein, is the chief economist and economic policy adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, says: “Since the recession started in December 2007, the labor force — people who are either working or seeking work — has declined by 700,000 workers, even though the working-age population has increased by 3.7 million. The shrinking labor force is largely a reflection of discouragement with the labor market; as jobs have become scarce, many job seekers have given up looking for work.”

Thus, according to the EPI, almost 4.5 million workers have dropped out of the work force, not the 1.1 million counted by the government. And among those who have dropped out, a drastically high proportion are youth. The labor force participation rate for workers age 16-24 has decreased from 59.1 percent to 54.7 percent in the 25 months since the recession started, representing a loss of 1.3 million young workers. In the Gallup Poll, people ages 18 to 29 had the highest level of underemployment, at 31 percent.

On the other end of the age scale, people over 55 have increased their workforce participation because they cannot afford to retire. In their senior years they wind up working, often forced to compete with youth for low-paying jobs.

Under “normal” conditions of capitalist exploitation — i.e., in between boom-and-bust crises, when jobs are more available — youth, and especially Black, Latino/a, Asian and Native youth, have the highest unemployment and the lowest wages. Now that there is a capitalist crisis, the crisis for youth has become massive.

The talk of “recovery” for workers of all ages is a myth. The only recovery is for the bosses, and for the biggest and richest ones at that.

The talk of a decline in layoffs was contradicted at the end of February by the announcement of a rise in first-time claims for unemployment insurance.

Unemployment claims rise, home sales drop

In its report on jobless claims on Feb. 25, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. Wall Street analysts had expected a drop to 455,000.

The four-week average of jobless claims rose 6,000 to 473,750. The average had fallen sharply over the summer and fall from its peak last spring of about 650,000. This year, the improvement has stalled. The four-week average has risen about 30,000 in the past month. It’s now well above the 425,000 level that many economists said would signal net hiring. It is a commentary on U.S. capitalism that the layoff of 425,000 workers in one week would be considered a “positive” signal of net hiring.

Furthermore, new-home sales dropped 11.2 percent in January, the largest drop in more than 50 years. A drop in new home sales spells further layoffs for construction workers.

One of the causes for the drop is the massive number of foreclosures as speculators and even some individual home buyers try to get bargain-basement prices by picking from the millions of foreclosed homes. But even with that, existing home sales dropped 7.2 percent in January.

More foreclosures are coming by the hundreds of thousands as unemployed workers cannot afford to keep up their mortgages, and even those who are employed are “underwater” — i.e., they owe far more than their homes are worth on the market.

The banks and lenders will not adjust loans, will not suspend payments for the unemployed, and are ruthlessly trying to squeeze every last nickel out of homeowners. Millions more foreclosures are in the offing unless the masses of people unite and demand an end to foreclosures and evictions.

To the 30-million-plus workers with no jobs or part-time jobs, with no health care plan, no pensions, no benefits, no vacations and the unbearable economic pressure of trying to stay afloat, the very idea that the economy has been “recovering” for six months must sound like a cruel joke.

Who will buy the goods?

One question that needs to be asked is what prompted the Gallup organization to undertake such an extensive poll? The contradictory numbers coming out of government offices and from the Obama administration have probably made sections of the ruling class nervous. Investment advisers, corporate economic forecasters, even economic policy advisers, have a large stake in getting reliable information about the economy. The ruling class cannot rely on the government agencies alone, which are bound to understate the seriousness of the situation for political reasons.

One of the few details made public in the recent Gallup Poll was how much less money was being spent in the market by underemployed workers, compared to those employed. The discrepancy between a supposed spending average of $75 a day for the employed compared to $48 a day for the underemployed, even if exaggerated, is a hard fact for those authorities to contemplate when considering the prospects for a capitalist “recovery.”

The public heard little of the poll and most of the information gathered was kept private, undoubtedly for the eyes of the ruling class and their advisers.

But the ruling class is teetering between recovery and renewed capitalist crisis. Everyone knows that the stabilization of the capitalist economy, the temporary halt to the downward spiral of the economic and financial crisis, was predicated upon the massive bailout of the banks and the stimulus to the economy.

The conventional calculations are that anywhere between 1.5 million and 2 million jobs were created or saved by the stimulus package of $787 billion. The stimulus money is supposed to run out in the middle of 2010. Credit for first-time home buyers has now been extended to those who have previously purchased homes.

The government and bosses and bankers are waiting to see what happens when the stimulus money and the incentives run their course. Everyone is holding their breath hoping that the limited capitalist expansion now underway will keep going.

But the ruling class has a fundamental contradiction in the present crisis. It is making a profit recovery based on layoffs and intensifying the exploitation of the remaining workers. No recovery can be sustained on that basis. Only renewed crisis can be the outcome of this course.

The working class, the oppressed, the communities, the students and youth, and all who are being victimized by this capitalist crisis must not hold their breath and wait for salvation to come from an economic recovery.

The only way out of this crisis for them is to organize and struggle with a fighting program. At the top of the agenda must be a demand for a government program that guarantees a job at a living wage with full benefits and the unhampered right to union representation for every worker who needs one.

The trillions of dollars being given to the banks, the corporations and the military can support such a program as well as guarantee a free quality education for all youth, from grade school to college.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mass unemployment is here to stay

Big business media finally admit mass unemployment is here to stay

Workers World: http://www.workers.org/2010/us/unemployment_0304/


Workers, students and you must fight for jobs, education

Published Feb 28, 2010 9:03 PM

The jobless recovery has been declared official by the New York Times, the newspaper of record for the U.S. ruling class. Its edition of Feb. 21 — the Sunday paper that is read in every capital, finance ministry, embassy, consulate, department of state, etc., in the capitalist world — carried the following two-column banner headline in bold: “Despite Signs of Recovery, Chronic Joblessness Rises — The Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs, Exhausting Savings and Benefits.”

The article that followed was a thinly veiled warning to Washington, to policy makers, and to pundits alike not to pay any heed to false optimism. The economy is in a new stage of crisis — economic recovery is rising alongside growing long-term unemployment. There is little to no prospect that the many millions of unemployed, many of whom are rapidly running out of unemployment benefits, will be rehired. Excerpts from the article give the sense of alarm intended.


chart
job growth

It says there are “6.3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the largest number since the government began keeping track in 1948. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period, in the early 1980s.”

A Times chart shows the racism of the long-term unemployment. Black men are 5.5 percent of the workforce but almost 13 percent of the unemployed. Latinos/as are also disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed.

“Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department. ...

“Labor experts say the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month just to absorb entrants to the labor force. With more than 15 million people officially jobless, even a vigorous recovery is likely to leave an enormous number out of work for years.

“Some labor experts note that severe economic downturns are generally followed by powerful expansions, suggesting that aggressive hiring will soon resume. But doubts remain about whether such hiring can last long enough to absorb anywhere close to the millions of unemployed.”

Of course, the Times minimizes unemployment. It does not refer to the millions of workers who, having dropped out of the labor force, are not considered part of the officially unemployed. Nor does it count the number of undocumented workers who were forced into the underground economy and are now laid off.

Youth suffer most from “jobless recovery” stage of capitalism

Above all, there has been no calculation of how many millions of youth cannot get into the labor force in the first place. Among those 16 to 24 years old who are counted, unemployment is in the 20 percent range. For African-American youth it is officially above 40 percent, but in reality is probably even higher.

For every available job, six people are looking for work. The connection between the economic crisis, the reduction in skills by technology and the loss of jobs in general falls hardest on youth, especially those who cannot afford to graduate from college because of unaffordable tuition and lack of financial support.

The Times knows that this jobless recovery did not come out of the blue.

“Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000. ...

“‘American business is about maximizing shareholder value,’ said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. ‘You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.’

“During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ‘90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.

“‘The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,’ Mr. Achuthan said. ‘There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.’

“Before 1990, it took an average of 21 months for the economy to regain the jobs shed during a recession, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project and the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group in Washington.

“After the recessions in 1990 and in 2001, 31 and 46 months passed before employment returned to its previous peaks. The economy was growing, but companies remained conservative in their hiring.”

In other words, the present jobless recovery, which is far worse than the last two, represents a sharp deepening of a profound trend in U.S. capitalism. But the Times and other “experts” can never admit that.

Marxists understand that this crisis is a natural outgrowth of the drive for profits. Profits are derived by the exploitation of workers. The use of technology is a fundamental way the bosses have of intensifying that exploitation. Technology takes the skills out of jobs, lowers wages, and makes workers produce more and more in less and less time.

For the last 30 years the bosses have engaged in a global restructuring of the capitalist system based upon the introduction of more and more modern technology. This leads to overproduction, because goods are produced faster and faster and workers are paid less and less.

In the present crisis, heads of the automobile industry and related industries claim they had to shrink their capacity and lay off hundreds of thousands of workers in order to stay profitable. The same is true of the housing industry, the aircraft industry and many others.

Thus there is a permanent reduction in the need to rehire the millions of workers who have been laid off — that is, so long as capitalist profits come before the needs of workers and the communities.

The basic contradictions of capitalism are at the bottom of this new stage of the jobless recovery. The capitalist system is not going to make some big comeback and rehire the workers. The only way the workers will get rehired is if they organize, mobilize and fight to override the profit motive and put workers’ needs first.

Someone reading the New York Times headline alone, and not knowing that the Times is the mouthpiece of big business, might think at first that the article was written out of concern and sympathy for the workers. Indeed, there is a long lead-in about a 57-year-old woman worker in southern California who has been unemployed for two years and whose husband is disabled. She is running out of unemployment benefits and the family is on the edge of homelessness.

But genuine concern for the working class is hardly the motive of the New York Times or its news editors, and certainly not of its owners. Millions have been suffering this fate for years now, but their trials have not made the lead story of the Sunday Times. The suffering of the workers, particularly in this crisis, is hardly late-breaking news.

The workers have been suffering throughout the last period while the government has handed over trillions of dollars to the banks, insurance companies, auto companies, etc. In all this time the capitalist class has been slashing jobs and wages, putting people out of their homes and bankrupting communities.

So why it this being raised now? It is to sound the alarm that two things are staring the capitalists in the face if the jobless recovery goes on. First, they will have to shell out more money to keep the workers from starving en masse. And second, they could face a social explosion, a working-class rebellion.

Yet in spite of all the warnings, neither the Times nor any other of the big business “experts” have any advice on how to solve their own contradictions. They have no way of resolving this crisis within the framework of capitalism and its profit-driven economy.

Only the workers can find the way out. As a first step, it is time to demand that the trillions of dollars held by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board, plus the bloated profits of the banks and the hundreds of billions of dollars handed over to the Pentagon for war and war preparation, be used to create a massive government jobs program.

This program must include reopening closed factories and stores, as well as creating new jobs so that every worker who needs a job gets one at a living wage. The money is there. But it will only be made available through the struggle of the mass of people in the streets.

The long-term solution is to get rid of the capitalist profit system itself and establish a system where the economy is socially owned and run on a planned basis for human need and not for profit — that is, on a socialist basis.

The writer is author of “Low-Wage Capitalism,” a Marxist analysis of the effect of globalization on the U.S. working class, which highlighted the jobless recovery in 2008 as the present crisis was first unfolding.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.