Sunday, April 30, 2006

Robert Fisk's 'United States of Israel'

This appeared in The Independent on Thursday, April 27th. It's been harder than normal to track down on the web since then. You've normally got to pay for Robert Fisk articles, unless you've got access to databases like LexisNexis or Bell & Howell, but even there it has been strangely absent. Fortunately the good folk at Counterpunch have a version up.

Breaking the Last Taboo. The United States of Israel?
Stephen Walt towers over me as we walk in the Harvard sunshine past Eliot Street, a big man who needs to be big right now (he's one of two authors of an academic paper on the influence of America's Jewish lobby) but whose fame, or notoriety, depending on your point of view, is of no interest to him. "John and I have deliberately avoided the television shows because we don't think we can discuss these important issues in 10 minutes. It would become 'J' and 'S', the personalities who wrote about the lobby - and we want to open the way to serious discussion about this, to encourage a broader discussion of the forces shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East."

"John" is John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Walt is a 50-year-old tenured professor at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The two men have caused one of the most extraordinary political storms over the Middle East in recent American history by stating what to many non-Americans is obvious: that the US has been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of Israel, that Israel is a liability in the "war on terror", that the biggest Israeli lobby group, Aipac (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is in fact the agent of a foreign government and has a stranglehold on Congress - so much so that US policy towards Israel is not debated there - and that the lobby monitors and condemns academics who are critical of Israel.

"Anyone who criticises Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy," the authors have written, "...stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-Semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israeli lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism ... Anti-Semitism is something no-one wants to be accused of." This is strong stuff in a country where - to quote the late Edward Said - the "last taboo" (now that anyone can talk about blacks, gays and lesbians) is any serious discussion of America's relationship with Israel.

Walt is already the author of an elegantly written account of the resistance to US world political dominance, a work that includes more than 50 pages of references. Indeed, those who have read his Taming Political Power: The Global Response to US Primacy will note that the Israeli lobby gets a thumping in this earlier volume because Aipac "has repeatedly targeted members of Congress whom it deemed insufficiently friendly to Israel and helped drive them from office, often by channelling money to their opponents."

But how many people in America are putting their own heads above the parapet, now that Mearsheimer and Walt have launched a missile that would fall to the ground unexploded in any other country but which is detonating here at high speed? Not a lot. For a while, the mainstream US press and television - as pro-Israeli, biased and gutless as the two academics infer them to be - did not know whether to report on their conclusions (originally written for The Atlantic Monthly, whose editors apparently took fright, and subsequently reprinted in the London Review of Books in slightly truncated form) or to remain submissively silent. The New York Times, for example, only got round to covering the affair in depth well over two weeks after the report's publication, and then buried its article in the education section on page 19. The academic essay, according to the paper's headline, had created a "debate" about the lobby's influence.

They can say that again. Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, who now heads an Israeli lobby group, kicked off by unwittingly proving that the Mearsheimer-Walt theory of "anti-Semitism" abuse is correct. "I believe," he said, "that anti-Semitism may be partly defined as asserting a Jewish conspiracy for doing the same thing non-Jews engage in." Congressman Eliot Engel of New York said that the study itself was "anti-Semitic" and deserved the American public's contempt.

Walt has no time for this argument. "We are not saying there is a conspiracy, or a cabal. The Israeli lobby has every right to carry on its work - all Americans like to lobby. What we are saying is that this lobby has a negative influence on US national interests and that this should be discussed. There are vexing problems out in the Middle East and we need to be able to discuss them openly. The Hamas government, for example - how do we deal with this? There may not be complete solutions, but we have to try and have all the information available."

Walt doesn't exactly admit to being shocked by some of the responses to his work - it's all part of his desire to keep "discourse" in the academic arena, I suspect, though it probably won't work. But no-one could be anything but angered by his Harvard colleague, Alan Dershowitz, who announced that the two scholars recycled accusations that "would be seized on by bigots to promote their anti-Semitic agendas". The two are preparing a reply to Dershowitz's 45-page attack, but could probably have done without praise from the white supremacist and ex-Ku Klux Klan head David Duke - adulation which allowed newspapers to lump the name of Duke with the names of Mearsheimer and Walt. "Of Israel, Harvard and David Duke," ran the Washington Post's reprehensible headline.

The Wall Street Journal, ever Israel's friend in the American press, took an even weirder line on the case. "As Ex-Lobbyists of Pro-Israel Group Face Court, Article Queries Sway on Mideast Policy" its headline proclaimed to astonished readers. Neither Mearsheimer nor Walt had mentioned the trial of two Aipac lobbyists - due to begin next month - who are charged under the Espionage Act with receiving and disseminating classified information provided by a former Pentagon Middle East analyst. The defence team for Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman has indicated that it may call Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to the stand.

Almost a third of the Journal's report is taken up with the Rosen-Weissman trial, adding that the indictment details how the two men "allegedly sought to promote a hawkish US policy toward Iran by trading favours with a number of senior US officials. Lawrence Franklin, the former Pentagon official, has pleaded guilty to misusing classified information. Mr Franklin was charged with orally passing on information about a draft National Security Council paper on Iran to the two lobbyists... as well as other classified information. Mr Franklin was sentenced in December to nearly 13 years in prison..."

The Wall Street Journal report goes on to say that lawyers and "many Jewish leaders" - who are not identified - "say the actions of the former Aipac employees were no different from how thousands of Washington lobbyists work. They say the indictment marks the first time in US history that American citizens... have been charged with receiving and disseminating state secrets in conversations." The paper goes on to say that "several members of Congress have expressed concern about the case since it broke in 2004, fearing that the Justice Department may be targeting pro-Israel lobbying groups, such as Aipac. These officials (sic) say they're eager to see the legal process run its course, but are concerned about the lack of transparency in the case."

As far as Dershowitz is concerned, it isn't hard for me to sympathise with the terrible pair. He it was who shouted abuse at me during an Irish radio interview when I said that we had to ask the question "Why?" after the 11 September 2001 international crimes against humanity. I was a "dangerous man", Dershowitz shouted over the air, adding that to be "anti-American" - my thought-crime for asking the "Why?" question - was the same as being anti-Semitic. I must, however, also acknowledge another interest. Twelve years ago, one of the Israeli lobby groups that Mearsheimer and Walt fingers prevented any second showing of a film series on Muslims in which I participated for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel - by stating that my "claim" that Israel was building large Jewish settlements on Arab land was "an egregious falsehood". I was, according to another Israeli support group, "a Henry Higgins with fangs", who was "drooling venom into the living rooms of America."

Such nonsense continues to this day. In Australia to launch my new book on the Middle East, for instance, I repeatedly stated that Israel - contrary to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists - was not responsible for the crimes of 11 September 2001. Yet the Australian Jewish News claimed that I "stopped just millimetres short of suggesting that Israel was the cause of the 9/11 attacks. The audience reportedly (and predictably) showered him in accolades."

This was untrue. There was no applause and no accolades and I never stopped "millimetres" short of accusing Israel of these crimes against humanity. The story in the Australian Jewish News is a lie.

So I have to say that - from my own humble experience - Mearsheimer and Walt have a point. And for a man who says he has not been to Israel for 20 years - or Egypt, though he says he had a "great time" in both countries - Walt rightly doesn't claim any on-the-ground expertise. "I've never flown into Afghanistan on a rickety plane, or stood at a checkpoint and seen a bus coming and not known if there is a suicide bomber aboard," he says.

Noam Chomsky, America's foremost moral philosopher and linguistics academic - so critical of Israel that he does not even have a regular newspaper column - does travel widely in the region and acknowledges the ruthlessness of the Israeli lobby. But he suggests that American corporate business has more to do with US policy in the Middle East than Israel's supporters - proving, I suppose, that the Left in the United States has an infinite capacity for fratricide. Walt doesn't say he's on the left, but he and Mearsheimer objected to the invasion of Iraq, a once lonely stand that now appears to be as politically acceptable as they hope - rather forlornly - that discussion of the Israeli lobby will become.

Walt sits in a Malaysian restaurant with me, patiently (though I can hear the irritation in his voice) explaining that the conspiracy theories about him are nonsense. His stepping down as dean of the Kennedy School was a decision taken before the publication of his report, he says. No one is throwing him out. The much-publicised Harvard disclaimer of ownership to the essay - far from being a gesture of fear and criticism by the university as his would-be supporters have claimed - was mainly drafted by Walt himself, since Mearsheimer, a friend as well as colleague, was a Chicago scholar, not a Harvard don.

But something surely has to give.
Across the United States, there is growing evidence that the Israeli and neo-conservative lobbies are acquiring ever greater power. The cancellation by a New York theatre company of My Name is Rachel Corrie - a play based on the writings of the young American girl crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 - has deeply shocked liberal Jewish Americans, not least because it was Jewish American complaints that got the performance pulled.

"How can the West condemn the Islamic world for not accepting Mohamed cartoons," Philip Weiss asked in The Nation, "when a Western writer who speaks out on behalf of Palestinians is silenced? And why is it that Europe and Israel itself have a healthier debate over Palestinian human rights than we can have here?" Corrie died trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. Enemies of the play falsely claim that she was trying to stop the Israelis from collapsing a tunnel used to smuggle weapons. Hateful e-mails were written about Corrie. Weiss quotes one that reads: "Rachel Corrie won't get 72 virgins but she got what she wanted."

Saree Makdisi - a close relative of the late Edward Said - has revealed how a right-wing website is offering cash for University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) students who report on the political leanings of their professors, especially their views on the Middle East. Those in need of dirty money at UCLA should be aware that class notes, handouts and illicit recordings of lectures will now receive a bounty of $100. "I earned my own inaccurate and defamatory 'profile'," Makdisi says, "...not for what I have said in my classes on English poets such as Wordsworth and Blake - my academic speciality, which the website avoids mentioning - but rather for what I have written in newspapers about Middle Eastern politics."

Mearsheimer and Walt include a study of such tactics in their report. "In September 2002," they write, "Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website ( that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel... the website still invites students to report 'anti-Israel' activity."

Perhaps the most incendiary paragraph in the essay - albeit one whose contents have been confirmed in the Israeli press - discusses Israel's pressure on the United States to invade Iraq. "Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq's WMD programmes," the two academics write, quoting a retired Israeli general as saying: "Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional capabilities."

Walt says he might take a year's sabbatical - though he doesn't want to get typecast as a "lobby" critic - because he needs a rest after his recent administrative post. There will be Israeli lobbyists, no doubt, who would he happy if he made that sabbatical a permanent one. I somehow doubt he will.
The Guardian's 'Comment is Free' carried a piece by Harry's Place regular David Tate entitled Help! I'm being censored by Fisk! I'm frightened of being labelled as part of the worldwide Zionist conspiracy.' A title that strikes me as a polemical piece of nonsense. He doesn't have much to say, except for some routine distortion, but does refer to the Harry's Place version of this article, which makes the point that the way that the Independent put the Fisk article on its Extra supplement with a US flag with the usual stars replaced by Stars of David, along with a New Statesman cover illustrating a John Pilger story, headlined 'The Kosher Conspiracy' stands in a bad continuum of anti-semitic imagery. An argument also taken up by David Hersh in 'Comment is Free'' the next day: Slipping Standards.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

US Socialist Worker

US Socialist Worker (April 21st 2006) give a sense of the scale and importance of the Latino migrants movement.

WHAT WE THINK: May 1 day of action for immigrant rights demands equality
The return of May Day: campaigners (but not unions) are calling for May 1st to be the Great American Boycott Day

Immigrant workers take a stand: “We’re going to keep marching”
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL published a worried analysis about the April 10 day of action for immigrant rights, pointing to widespread absenteeism by workers who participated, which forced many employers to shut down.
Workers at an Excel meatpacking plant in Dodge City, Kan., walked off the job after several workers were disciplined for staying away from work to demonstrate. After they marched into the company cafeteria and announced they wouldn’t return to work, management was forced to back down and withdraw the disciplinary action.
In Chicago, workers at the Cobra Metal Workers Corp. were fired after skipping work to participate in the march of 300,000 people on March 10. But they won reinstatement after activists organized by the Chicago Workers Collaborative rallied to their defense.
MARTÍN UNZUETA, the group’s organizer, spoke with Socialist Worker’s LEE SUSTAR about the central role of workers in the new immigrant-rights movement--and the national movement to skip work, march and protest on May 1.
Read on for the interview

There's also a useful historical background in America’s last guest worker program: A system designed for maximum exploitation
MILLIONS OF people have taken to the streets in immigrant-rights protests mostly focused against vicious legislation passed by the U.S. House that would criminalize undocumented workers and anyone who assists them. But the “compromise” proposal in the Senate falls far short of justice.

Among the provisions of the proposeal by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy is a guest-worker program that would give legal status to migrant workers brought into the U.S. to work for a specific contract. The politicians say the guest-worker system would be a generous “reform,” and some leaders among immigrant-rights organizations support it, viewing it as the “realistic” alternative to the House bill.

But as SARAH HINES explains, the history of the last major guest-worker program in the U.S.--the so-called bracero program, from 1942 to 1964--shows that the reality of such a system is very different from the rhetoric.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Anne Perkins on failure of the British labour movement

I can remember when books on the General Strike used to be written by activists or historians close to the movement, now a leader writer for The Guardian has a go and connects it to a crisis of the contemproary trade union movement.

Collective failure
As another British car plant closes with no industrial action taken, Anne Perkins considers why, 80 years after the general strike, our trade union movement is in remorseless decline
Saturday April 22, 2006 The Guardian

The workers at the condemned Peugeot plant at Ryton near Coventry, stupefied by the confirmation of what they had long feared, survey an empty horizon for alternatives to acceptance. Once, at about the time some of the Ryton workers got their first jobs, there would have been no need to think. They would go on strike.
A strike in defence of the Ryton jobs in those far-off days would be supported by car workers across the country. There would be mass demonstrations in sympathy. There would probably be talks at No 10, or at least tea at the Department of Employment (RIP).

In the end, the government would intervene: a contract would be found, a subsidy paid out, jobs would be saved ... until the next time, at least.

This week, the trade union leaders who talked of a strike got little support from the workers. "What's the point," one asked, "they'd only shut us down sooner."

When you know you and 2,300 others are headed for the job centre, there is little appetite for risking the mortgage.

Strikes don't happen any more. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, there were just 130 stoppages in the whole year.

Catering workers are sacked for refusing to take lower pay. Migrant workers die in one of the most blatant cases of exploitation since the abolition of slavery. The even tenor of Britain's industrial life is undisturbed.
Forty years ago, in 1966, the year when the current deputy prime minister John Prescott was accused by the then prime minister Harold Wilson of being one of a "tight-knit group of politically motivated men" masterminding a national seamen's strike, there were about 130 each month.

Eighty years ago next month, Britain's one and only General Strike brought more than 3 million men and women out for nine days, in defence of their own and particularly of the miners' pay and conditions.
On one level it was a miserable failure. The value of most people's pay carried on falling. The miners stayed on strike for more than six months before hunger and the winter drove them back for less money and longer hours.

The Conservative government celebrated victory with trade union legislation that severely circumscribed the conditions in which strikes were legal. It also ended contracting-out, reducing trade unions' ability to fund the Labour party by insisting that members had to opt specifically to pay a political levy. Trade unions lost many of the rights and immunities they had acquired in 1906.

But it forced trade unionists to accept that the parliamentary Labour party was the only route through which serious reform for working-class people could be achieved. It helped Labour become the largest party in the 1929 election.

In industry, the strike's failure gave impetus to attempts to improve negotiating machinery and build partnerships between employers and employees. The number of strikes fell. The numbers of days lost in industrial action was well below half a million for most of the next 20 years.

But the pendulum swung back. And if it swung then, why not now? This slump in industrial militancy follows the failure of another miners' strike, in 1984, and more legislation heavily restricting strike action. In the 1980s, as in the 1920s, there was high unemployment and economic collapse.

Much more is different, however, than the same. Sure, trade unions struggle once again to reinvent themselves. Membership declines and then stagnates. The TUC believes the future has to be through partnership not conflict.

In the 20th century, though, all the conditions that make trade unions so powerful and strikes so effective stayed in place. Once there was full employment again, large-scale workplaces, mass employers and the development of national agreements gave a strength to trade unions outside as well as inside the parliamentary political system.

After 1945, collective action was embedded in the national culture. A sense of common identity and shared objectives infused politics. The Tory party became a vehicle for state socialism. If strike leaders were never quite the heroes they were in France and Italy, they enjoyed a certain notoriety.

In the 21st century, the world has become simultaneously a more friendly and a more unfriendly place. Many people at work earn more and consume more than ever before. Inflation is under control. Pay settlements - if not pensions - look more secure.

But there are no more mass employers, except the state, and many of its low-paid workers work for subcontractors. National agreements, which covered four-fifths of the workforce in 1975, are in decline. Most people work for small employers, tough recruiting ground for trade unionists.

"It takes weeks to organise the same number of people as you can organise in a day at a big plant," points out Sarah Veal of the TUC.

Above all, the legal framework smothers most strikes. The nature of a legal dispute is narrowly defined. Ballots are compulsory and require detailed notices to employers before and afterwards. Sympathy strikes are illegal.

British trade unionists have fewer rights now than in 1906 or in 1926. No general strike would be possible now.

As a result, trade unionists argue, inequality in employment is growing worse. Without national agreements, the strong can no longer pull up the conditions of the weak. Good employers are undercut by the bad.
Last year's Gate Gourmet dispute, which grounded hundreds of British Airways flights when 813 catering workers at the subcontractors were sacked for protesting against the use of agency staff at lower pay, highlighted the limits on trade union action.

The strike, unballoted and spontaneous, was illegal. The settlement negotiated by the Transport and General Workers' Union, which had to repudiate the strike to avoid being sued itself, cost 131 employees their jobs without any compensation. Another 411 were given redundancy. Just 272 were reinstated.

"The Gate Gourmet case shows, as many other disputes have over the last quarter century, the degree to which the anti-union laws of the Thatcher era remain in place to deny workers and their unions the ability to mobilise to create effective countervailing power against management prerogative," write two labour lawyers, John Hendy and Gregor Gall.

The other BA staff who came out in support of Gate Gourmet (once part of BA itself) were also acting illegally in holding a sympathy strike, and again could get no support from their union.

In one of Tony Blair's early victories over his party, he declared: "There will be no return to secondary action, flying pickets, strikes without ballots, the closed shop and all the rest. British law [will be] the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world."

So it is. Trade union legislation here breaches conventions of the International Labour Organisation, the UN's International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights and the Council of Europe's Social Charter.
But watch how many come out to campaign on May Day, when MPs and trade unionists will be trying to create a national profile for a new trade union freedom bill to restore some of the rights and immunities all but lost in the 1980s.

No one thinks that changing the law will unleash waves of frustrated workers. Trade union membership, already down by half on its 1980 peak of 13 million, continues a slow but remorseless decline. Unions struggle as much as political parties do to engage the attention of potential members.

"You only get strikes in the areas where it still looks like the old economy, not the new," David Coates of the Work Foundation argues. That means areas such as the post office, the railways, and the public sector. This is a life-threatening challenge for the trade unions. The way people live and love, what they expect from life, has changed beyond all recognition.

The unions struggle to find a way of accommodating the individualistic nature of their members' aspirations with their traditional reason to exist.

Employers have leapt in to undermine them further. Digby Jones, outgoing director general of the CBI, accuses the unions of rediscovering militancy in a vain effort to recruit.

"The only protection people need in a tight labour market with skills shortages is to be so adaptable, trained and valuable that no employer would dare let them go or treat them badly."

Modernisers like David Coates and many at the TUC accept that some unions are still locked in the old world. But others believe they are misrepresented, constrained not by reality but public perceptions.

Professor Keith Ewing talks of the "misrememberd memories" of the 1970s and 1980s, the years when unions challenged government and, in the end, government won - the years when trade unions squandered their authority in the headlines and comment columns of every news bulletin and national newspaper.
"It is absurd to suppose that trade unions now would behave like the trade unions of the 1970s were supposed to have, even if they could," he says.

Meanwhile, unhappy workers resort to less confrontational methods. British workers change their jobs more often than any others in Europe. Days lost to strikes have plummeted. Days lost to absenteeism are soaring.
Fed up at work? Just pull the duvet up over your head.
· Anne Perkins is a Guardian leader writer.

Friday, April 21, 2006

George Galloway: we need a Labour Party

Every country needs a labour party.
We no longer have one If Blair loses votes to the BNP next month, it will be because New Labour has abandoned working class communities and values
George Galloway
Thursday April 20, 2006 The Guardian

Labour's long retreat from class politics - marked by the marginalisation of trade unions, privatisation, the abandonment of council housing and the helter-skelter of billionaires queueing up to fill the party funding gap - has finally forced some worms to turn.

Margaret Hodge, New Labour minister and formerly Islington's red duchess, and Jon Cruddas, once Downing Street's union-link man, have broken ranks to highlight the rupture in Labour's heartland: the end of the 100-year affair with white working people, those with nothing to sell except their work.

Labour's 1945-97 coalition of the working class and progressive middle-class allies - buttressed from the mid-60s by millions of mainly Commonwealth migrants - is being crushed in a vice-like process. The abandonment of traditional Labour social policy has been coupled with a foreign policy that deeply alienates parts of that coalition. The resulting fracture is now haemorrhaging votes from each element.

The point is well made by Chris Jones, professor of social policy at Liverpool University, in his critique of the lauded but less than scholarly book The New East End. It is not, as the study claimed, welfare dependency that breeds poverty and inter-ethnic strife, but rather "the onslaught on state welfare workers over the past 25 years, the reductions in welfare provision, the hollowing-out of social and community facilities in so many working-class neighbourhoods".

When the mainly Asian women workers of Gate Gourmet were sacked last year at three minutes' notice by a Texan billionaire with a bullhorn in the firm's car park, the widespread revulsion disguised this underlying reality: he was within his rights, and the women had almost none. When Tony Blair boasts that we have the "most flexible" labour force in western Europe, he really means the most sackable (as Peugeot's workers have discovered), working the longest hours with greater job insecurity, some of the poorest conditions of service, and the lowest pensions - even they are under threat from a spurious pensions crisis.

In the East End of London, the names of labour-movement luminaries such as Arthur Deakin and George Lansbury grace council blocks - the reward for stoicism in the Blitz and postwar Labour loyalty. Those estates are now among the many which have been ruthlessly driven out of council tenure and into the semi-privatised netherworld. The spectacle of a council, a Labour council, scuttling around in limousines spending hundreds of thousands of public pounds on DVDs and glossy magazines in order to persuade its tenants never to darken the town hall door again might have even Neil Kinnock's hair turn red again.

When Mr Blair bragged to the assembled claque at a soiree in the headquarters of Goldman Sachs - whose partners are among the richest people in Britain - that everyone present was paying less in income tax under him than under Margaret Thatcher, he seemed neither to understand nor care how repellent that sounded during a third Labour term and with multiple urban deprivation beginning just a stone's throw from the City.
In meetings across the country over the past couple of years I have been arguing that every country needs a labour party - but that Britain no longer has one. A party that will serve working people, whose interests are different and separate - as Keir Hardie argued more than a century ago - from those of Goldman Sachs. A party that will care for those now too old to work; for those who are not yet old enough to work but deserve the right to free study; for the poor, the marginalised, the migrants.

We have been challenging, from the left, New Labour's refusal to represent those it was elected to serve. Hodge and Cruddas are highlighting the threat posed in parts of east London and the north of England by the brown-shirted bread-and-butter "patriots" of the British National party, their poisonous pitch spiced with anti-immigrant rancour.

White workers on low pensions or wages, served by inadequate schools and hospitals, living in substandard housing, have, we are told, fallen for the falsehood that the interests of the black poor and white poor can be separate too.

As the former car workers of Dagenham and the West Midlands, mill-hands in Lancashire and miners in Yorkshire watch their rulers cavort with the undeserving rich, it's little wonder if some are prey to the patter of Nick Griffin and his fascism-lite. The worst thing to do under such circumstances is to make concessions to the BNP's immigrant-bashing or to slander white working-class people as irredeemably racist, while continuing with the destructive neoliberal policies that are fragmenting and impoverishing working-class communities.

The fascists were driven out of the East End in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s by uncompromising opposition to their racist filth and through the unity of white, black and Asian working people around genuine labour-movement values of solidarity and equality. Yet they are not the values prized by New Labour. The party made its bed when it abandoned those things that had commanded the loyalty of generations for the fool's gold that is the temporary favour of rich men. In next month's local elections it will have to lie in it - its former heartland supporters the victims, not the villains of the piece.

· George Galloway is the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wallerstein on possible Iran attack

Commentary No. 183, April 15, 2006
"Attack on Iran: Can They Be Serious?"

I have been arguing for quite some time now that the talk of a U.S. military attack on Iran was essentially bluster, and that it could not occur because it would be totally irrational from the point of view of the United States and because of the strong opposition of the leadership of the armed forces. Yet just recently, Seymour Hersh wrote an article in The New Yorker, in which he lays out the worries and fears of U.S. military leadership that such an attack is actually envisaged by President Bush. And even worse, he says that, in direct response to military objections, the president would not rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate deeply into the bunkers where nuclear apparatuses are stored.

This article has attracted an astonishing amount of coverage. And similar stories then appeared in the Washington Post and the Associated Press. Immediately, the President said this was "wild speculation," although he did not say that this option was unthinkable. The Foreign Minister of Great Britain, Jack Straw, did however say that an assault on Iran was "inconceivable" and plans to use nuclear weapons "completely nuts."

So whom are we to believe? Hersh, it is well-known, has cultivated long relationships with senior military figures (as well as with senior CIA figures), and has had a very good record about revealing things which turned out to be true. The President has had a very bad record about telling the truth in the past five years. And Jack Straw's record is not that much better. So, it is incumbent on us at least to review the arguments.

Why an attack would be irrational - I insist, from the point of view of the United States - seems very clear to me. First, at a moment in time when U.S. military energy seems insufficient to do what the United States is trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan, an attack on Iran would stretch military resources still further, and perhaps well beyond a snapping point. Secondly, according to all the analyses I've read, the Iranian defenses are so well-constructed and distributed geographically that no aerial assault (however massive) could wipe it out completely. It could at most slow down the process.

Then, there's the Iranian response. Even if they aren't in a position yet to drop their own nuclear devices anywhere, they have a strong influence in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. They can wreak further havoc there, and the attack can tilt moderately pro-American elements, like some of the Shi'a in Iraq, into a militantly negative attitude.

And then there's the fallout. Clearly, such an attack will not intimidate potential nuclear proliferators. It will make them all speed up. Iran can rapidly move politically from a state held a bit at distance by Arab states to being the hero of the Muslim world, with all the consequences that will have in the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Palestine, and even Egypt.Let us not forget oil. The disruption of Iranian supply - a major portion of the world's oil - would almost certainly raise oil prices from its present high of circa $60 a barrel to $100. And that will have untold and unpredictable negative consequences for the world-economy, not least of all for the U.S. economy.

The allies? Even the faithful ally, Great Britain, has indicated very strongly to the United States that they do not favor a military attack, however much they are committed to trying to stop Iran's acquiring nuclear bombs.

And finally there is the overall impact on the U.S. position in the world. Just this week, France's think tank on foreign affairs, IRIS, did a balance-sheet on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It was called "quasi-catastrophic" for the U.S., resulting in the "hyperpower" having become "hyperentangled and hyperunpopular." The French like to use the prefix "hyper-" to indicate one degree higher than the prefix "super-." In short, after three years of quasi-catastrophe, why would the United States seek to make it still worse?Yet, despite all this, it seems U.S. senior military officers are deeply worried. Hersh says that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is considering a formal letter of opposition to the President. This past month a series of senior retired generals who served in Iraq have called for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld. The timing cannot have been accidental. Why then are these officers afraid? Hersh gives us one explanation. They think that President Bush has a "messianic" complex. As we know, people with messianic complexes are dangerous, especially if they have their finger on nuclear weapons and control the strongest military machine in the world.

Still, is this enough? Whatever the case with Bush, we also need to know the motivations of those around him - the militarists and the neo-conservative intellectuals. What can they be saying to themselves that counters all the obvious arguments against a military intervention? One is that they have nothing to lose. If the United States does not intervene, Iran will indeed have nuclear weapons sometime soon. They are not at all resigned to this prospect, because it would undoubtedly reduce the political clout of the United States in the region. But is a reduction of U.S. clout worth Armageddon?

Then some of them may be thinking in narrow electoral terms. An attack, if properly timed, might lift Bush's approval ratings temporarily, rattle the already too pro-war Democrats, and be enough to ensure Republican victory in the Congressional elections of 2006, thereby ruling out the idea of impeachment.

And there is Israel. The Israeli government and their friends in the United Statees state openly that they cannot accept the idea of a nuclear Iran and have long threatened an air attack if necessary. That they have even less possibility of pulling this off successfully than the United States only means that they have been concentrating on getting the United States to do it. The defense of Israel has been a primary concern of the United States, and especially of the Bush regime. And why is Israel so fearful? Do they really think Iran is going to bomb them? I doubt it, but they do think that if they are not the very strongest military power in the Middle East, their political strength is diminished. And of course they are right.So, will the United States attack? or won't it? In general, I tend to think that rationality wins out in most political decisions, but sometimes it doesn't. Or maybe some people have, not a messianic complex, but a Samson complex.
Immanuel Wallerstein

Gary Younge on US migrants protests

With these protests, have America's Hispanics finally broken their terror? A migrant community that has always tried to be invisible has become active. And politicians have to take notice
Gary Younge
Monday April 17, 2006 The Guardian
Like a scene out of a Steinbeck novel, shadows slowly emerged from tents and into the night in New Orleans City Park at the call of "Free food, water". "The church brings food and water on Thursdays," explains Mercedes Sanchez, standing beside the tarpaulin construction that is now her home. She paid $3,000 to trek three days and three nights through the Arizona desert to get to the US. Along the way she was stripped naked by bandits and robbed at gunpoint. "When you walk through the desert you think you're never going to arrive," she says. "It costs a lot of money and a lot of tears." She was more than 1,000 miles away in Maryland when Hurricane Katrina struck. Shortly afterwards she heard that people were recruiting here. She heard the call for work and, like migrant workers anywhere, she responded with a journey.

Over recent weeks, Hispanic migrants have been flocking to another call - not to work, but to arms. Throughout America millions of Hispanics, in big cities and small towns, have taken to the streets to protest against anti-immigration legislation and for their right to stay in the country. Half a million came out in Los Angeles and also in Dallas, 300,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in Washington DC - right down to 3,000 in Garden City, Kansas (population 30,000).

Such numbers over such a broad swath of the country hold huge symbolic importance locally and globally. It has yet to be seen whether that symbolism can be translated into a political and electoral force with ramifications beyond this moment and this issue. Globally, the demonstrations mark the first example of mass resistance to the west's desire to criminalise migrant labourers and to fortify the borders against those trying to get in.

The bill they were marching against would see a 2,000-mile fence built along the US-Mexican frontier, and all 11 million undocumented workers on the wrong side of it declared illegal and deported. In some respects, the border between the US and Mexico exemplifies the physical interface between the developing and developed world. The average wage is four times higher on one side. But the tension exposed by these disparities is by no means unique to the US. It was present in the British elections last year, when Tony Blair stood before the white cliffs of Dover pledging to tighten immigration controls. It was evident in the Italian elections, where the centre-left challenger, Romano Prodi, responded to Silvio Berlusconi's anti-immigrant rants by saying: "You cannot need the workers during the day, then go and hunt them at night."

Yet that is precisely what the west has been doing - demonising migrant labourers politically and targeting them legally, even as it depends on them economically. This has made anti-immigration legislation difficult to challenge. Not because migrants are hard to reach - businesses find them easily - but because they are difficult to organise as their fates are vulnerable to the whims of their employers and of the state. The result was a community that, until recently, was hidden in plain sight. "A community that had essentially been trying to remain invisible suddenly concluded that their invisibility was only making them more vulnerable," Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told the Washington Post. The sheer presence of so many Latinos on the streets was in itself a political fact to be reckoned with.

"All books about all revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of people," wrote the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in his book, Shah of Shahs, about Iran's revolution. "They should begin with a psychological chapter, one that shows how a harassed man breaks his terror and stops being afraid. This unusual process demands illuminating." And so it has been in recent weeks. Children walked out of school; their parents walked off the job. "The foreman said everybody has to show up today, but we came anyway. We have to march," Dionicio Morales, a bricklayer from Guatemala, told the Los Angeles Times. "There won't be any brickwork there today."

One key difference between the US and western Europe is the large social crossover between documented and undocumented immigrants, making the latter less isolated. Roughly one in four illegal migrants lives in a family with someone who is legal - so to attack them is to attack many Latino families. Another is the power of America's assimilationist traditions and immigrant heritage. America has always been keener on immigration than it has been on immigrants. Immigration evokes the mythology of personal reinvention, social meritocracy, ethnic diversity and class fluidity at the heart of the American dream. Immigrants evoke hostility as people who take jobs and don't speak the language.

This is not new. In 1886, the same year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated as the beacon of the "hungry, tired [and] poor yearning to breathe free", a mob in Seattle chased most of the Chinese labourers out of the city. But these contradictions, combined with a fierce sense of patriotism and often a sentimental attachment to "the old country", do provide more political space for a worthwhile immigration debate than is possible in Europe, which imagines itself ethnically pure.

The marches worked hard to find and occupy that space. In some cities demonstrators recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Throughout the country they carried banners stating "We Are America" and "Today we march; tomorrow we vote". If they do, they could reconfigure American politics. Compared to black and white voters, Hispanic turnout is low; but in terms of partisan allegiance it is more in play. Bush picked up 45% of the Latino vote in 2004 - a serious dent in those numbers could cost the Republicans Congress.

So Latinos have got the politicians' attention; whether they will be able to keep it until election day is another matter. It would be premature to refer to this as a movement, but it certainly has the potential to become one. The diverse and dispersed grassroots groups that called the demonstrations in each city represent a pre-existing network that thrives under the Anglo radar. But the turnout took even the organisers by surprise - in Los Angeles they had expected just 20,000.

So we now know that this network can be mobilised on an impressive scale and with relatively few resources. But on what agenda and to what effect? Uniting against an immediate legislative assault on their communities is one thing; but finding the political consensus and organisational cohesion to rally round a programme or plan of action is another. Calls for a national Latino strike on May 1 have already sparked division, with some claiming the organisers are overplaying their hand.

For migrants were not the only ones mobilising recently. One rightwing talkshow host called for them to be placed in the New Orleans Superdome and then shipped back to where they came from. But first they would have to finish the repairs to the Superdome. And it would take Hispanic labourers like Mercedes Sanchez to do it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Socialist Worker 1996 April 15th

Socialist Worker (#1996 April 15th) leads on the French government's retreat from its CPE employment law, symbol of it's neo-liberal offensive. The headline 'Message from the French strike movement 'We Have Won and So Can You'' is kind of exciting, although the link to the now suspended 3 days of strikes by British public sector workers over pensions has dated badly. There's also an appeal from Respect candidates in Newham and Tower Hamlets for support, sensibly saying that 'there's nothing automatic about Respect breaking through' and mobilising for a march from Liverpool Station to Bethnal Green offices before campaigning. The front page also has a set of un-named photos, linked to a George Galloway article about his expose of 'fake shiekh' Mazher Mahmood.

Charlie Kimber has an article about the regional pensions strikes promised for April 25-27th, which have now been called-off, and the May 3rd-4th strike, which could be joined by FE lecturers and DWP civil servants in separate disputes. SW is urging a groundswell of feeling for action and victory. There's a web only follow up by Kimber: 'Anger as unions call off pensions strike', pointing out what a bad decision this was, in the week of the French victory, and what a bad deal the negotiating framework is. There's another update by UNISON NEC member giving an account of the meeting that voted to call the action off.

Mike Gonzalez provides a good piece on Peru and Ollanto Humala against the background of other developments in Latin America. Gonzalez presents Humala as a dodgy populist, lacking Morales' roots in struggle, but symbolising popular anger about neo-liberalism. If he wins on May 7th [last I heard Humala came first in the first round with just over 30% of the vote, not a huge way ahead of either the neo-liberal candidate or the rather discredited Alan Garcia] there won't be a popular movement to hold him to acount or take independent action, a symptom of the failure of the divided left in Peru.

There's a good inside story by Nick Barrett (from the IST strand in the LCR) giving the story of the French movement against the CPE, emphasising the role of students and a rank and file based co-ordinating committee. This is clearly a major victory against the now paralysed government and neo-liberalism with potential repercussions across Europe. There still remains a struggle against the CNE in small businesses and the CGT has announced that it is starting a battle against it on May Day. Further political analysis by Nick Barrett points out the extent of the problems for the Right politicians, but no mention of Le Pen) and the numbers looking for a political alternative to neo-liberalism. The SP candidate for presidential elections in 2007 is Blairite Segolene Royal and Barrett raises the possibility of both the SP splitting and being the main beneficiary of the movement. The PC will be be caught between its alliance with the SP and its more militant members. The LCR has responded to the movement the best and Besancenot is ahead of Marie-GeorgeBuffet of the PC in opinion polls. What the LCR does now is crucial. An interview with a railworker (interviewed before, so I guess a political activist as well) talks about this as the beginning or resumption of struggles since defeat over pension reform in 2003. Eight weeks of university strikes, two general strikes.
And there's a letter from Sebastien Budgen taking issue with SW for ignoring the 'significant minority of lumpen thugs who disrupted the demonstrations'.

Pat Stack contributes a centre-spread on the Easter Rising.

Alex Callinicos takes up the enormous protest movement against new immigration legislation in the US. Callinicos backgrounds this in terms of globalization: hah, goes against the analysis just a short while ago.
But this is interesting:
"... the powerful flows that bind together the US and its Latin American neighbours
in a single political economy. I got an insight into this when I attended a conference
on globalisation and empire in Mexico City a few months ago.
"The issue that most engaged the Mexican participants was migration. One participant
described how, since the North American Free Trade Agreement opened up Mexican
farmers to competition from US agribusiness, an enormous exodus has developed from
rural Mexico.
"Whole villages, their livelihoods destroyed, are heading north in search of jobs. No
wonder US border controls are buckling under the pressure. But migrant labour is in
great demand from US capitalism.
"The Financial Times had a fascinating piece last week about Dalton, Georgia. The
population of this southern town grew from 22,000 in 1990 to 28,000 in 2000. In
the same period the racial mix has changed from 83 percent white to 40 percent
"The migrants have come to work in Dalton’s carpet mills, which are responsible for
one third of global carpet output. This picture is not an isolated one. One paper at the
Mexico City conference traced the impact Mexican farm workers are having in Valle Cruci,
in rural North Carolina."

There's more on Respect with Turkish and Kurdish candidates in Hackney and Haringey. Sait Akgul says "It is natural for immigrant communities to support Respect." Good stuff.

Paul Blackledge completes his trilogy of columns on the New Left, headlined 'A Stark choice between Lenin and liberalism', which is a tad starker than I think necessary! Paul makes a lot of good points, based on his book on Perry Anderson and the New Left and pointing again to his recent work on Alasadair MacIntyre, but doesn't have the space to provide more than a capsule history.

David Keen presents an argument based on Hannah Arendt's concept of 'Action as propaganda' to analyse how action takes precedent over argument. His book, Endless War? sounds very interesting.

There's also an interview with the Palestinian director of Paradise Now.

It's a good issue.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Andrew Glyn on a global reserve army of labour

Andrew Glyn
Marx's reserve army of labour is about to go global The eruption of the Indian and Chinese economies could shift the balance of power sharply in favour of capital in the rich world

Wednesday April 5, 2006 The Guardian

A piece of conventional wisdom about the world dear to economists is that the share of national income going to workers stays pretty stable. Karl Marx disagreed; he argued that labour-saving capital investment would limit demand for labour, while also bankrupting small-scale producers, in agriculture for example. They would swell the labour supply, creating a permanent "reserve army of labour" that would prevent real wages growing as fast as labour productivity. Workers would thus spend an increasing proportion of working time producing profits for capitalists - a falling share for labour or a rising rate of exploitation, in Marx's terminology.

Labour's share of national income was indeed declining in Britain in the decades before the publication of Marx's Capital in the 1860s. However, labour's share lurched up during the two world wars, and this is often interpreted as reflecting a more even balance of power between capital and labour brought about by the growth of trade unions.

The later 60s and 70s saw a profits squeeze in many European economies, including the UK, reflecting a further decline in the power of private ownership. Subsequently, labour's advances were beaten back through unemployment and the reassertion of "shareholder value". Workers' share of national income has fallen in much of Europe to more "normal" levels. As yet this is not the systematic downward trend predicted by Marx. But could that be about to change?

The Communist Manifesto proclaimed the inevitable spread of capitalism across the globe. This process was halted and even reversed during much of the 20th century by the isolation of the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and China from the world economy and the very slow pace of economic development in poor countries such as India. However, the extraordinary transformation of China's and India's economies promises to bring Marx and Engels' prediction to completion. What might be the implications for workers in rich countries?

At first glance, the eruption of China into the world economy seems to be just the latest example of Asian countries catching up with the leading industrial powers. China's export growth has been spectacular, but so was that of Japan and Korea in earlier decades.

What makes China (and India) fundamentally different, however, are their vast labour reserves. Total employment in China is estimated at around 750 million, or about one and a half times that of all the rich economies, and nearly 10 times the combined employment of Japan and Korea. About one half of China's employment is still in agriculture; together with tens of millions of urban underemployed, they constitute a reserve army of labour of quite unprecedented magnitude.

The effect of this reserve army has been to hold down wages. After nearly 25 years of rapid economic growth, wages in China's manufacturing sector are still only 3% of the US level; after similar periods of rapid expansion in Japan and Korea, wages were some 10 times as high.
Much attention has naturally been devoted to the effects on industrialised countries of the flood of imports. But there is another, more ominous, possibility. What if there was a major drain of capital spending, from the rich countries to China and the rest of the south?

Investment in developing countries by multinational companies has been growing, but it is still only 3-4% of their investment at home each year. Could the trickle turn into a flood? Television pictures of the machinery at the Longbridge car plant being packed up for shipment to China may be an extreme case. However, with such low wage costs in China and growing numbers of skilled workers, why should northern producers continue investing to maintain their capital stock in the north, let alone extend it? If investment peters out, where would northern workers find jobs? When Longbridge closed, a government minister was ill-advised to suggest that the car workers could seek jobs at Tesco. Hardly a comforting response.

It is not too far-fetched to imagine a long period of investment stagnation in the industrialised countries, with "emerging markets" being so much more profitable. This could bring intense pressure on jobs and working conditions in Britain and elsewhere. Even sectors where relocation was not possible, like retailing or education, would be flooded with job seekers. The bargaining chips would be in the hands of capital to a degree not seen since the industrial revolution.

Fluctuations in labour's share being confined to the range of 65-75% could disappear too, with Marx's rising rate of exploitation re-emerging, a century and a half after he first predicted it.
Could the economy become ever more dependent on the luxury consumption of the wealthy, who receive a disproportionate share of the higher profits? Alternatively, would taxation of profits be increased to expand government services such as health and education? With recent trends in favour of the wealthy intensifying, the fundamental issue of who gets what could no longer be confined to hesitant debates about minor changes in the share of taxation in national income, or adjustments to the top rate of income tax.

· Andrew Glyn is an economics fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and author of Capitalism Unleashed.

The comments are worth looking at (bless The Guardian's Free Comment).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Monthly Review 57, 11 April 2006

Monthly Review April 2006, Vol 57, 11

'Neoliberalism: Myths and Reality' (downloadable) by Martin Hart-Landsberg
"Agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have enhanced transnational capitalist power and profits at the cost of growing economic instability and deteriorating working and living conditions. Despite this reality, neoliberal claims that liberalization, deregulation, and privatization produce unrivaled benefits have been repeated so often that many working people accept them as unchallengeable truths. Thus, business and political leaders in the United States and other developed capitalist countries routinely defend their efforts to expand the WTO and secure new agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as necessary to ensure a brighter future for the world’s people, especially those living in poverty. "

'The Lawyer’s Typist: Variations on a Theme by Paul Samuelson' by Cheryl Payer
Nora, who was Improving her Mind with a night school course in introductory economics, settled down to do her homework. That week’s assignment was the chapter on international trade in the textbook for the course (which the instructor had assured the class was The Very Best, being the seventh edition of Paul Samuelson’s Economics: An Introductory Analysis.

'Rebel in the House:The Life and Times of Vito Marcantonio' by John J. Simon
"Vito Marcantonio was the most consequential radical politician in the United States in the twentieth century. Elected to Congress from New York’s ethnically Italian and Puerto Rican East Harlem slums, Marcantonio, in his time, held office longer than any other third-party radical, serving seven terms from 1934 to 1950. Colorful and controversial, Marcantonio captured national prominence as a powerful orator and brilliant parliamentarian. Often allied with the U.S. Communist Party (CP), he was an advocate of civil rights, civil liberties, labor unions, and Puerto Rican independence. He supported social security and unemployment legislation for what later was called a “living wage” standard. And he annually introduced anti-lynching and anti–poll tax bills a decade before it became respectable. He also opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee, redbaiting, and antisemitism, and fought for the rights of the foreign born. He was a bold outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism."

The Hidden History of the Americas by Richard Peet
A review of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

Rebellion of a New Generation by Elizabeth Wrigley-Field
A review of Letters from Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out by Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, eds., with preface by Bernardine Dohrn.

Darwin's Materialism by Richard York
A review of Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life by Niles Eldredge.

Thomas Palley on the split in US labour.

Disorganized Labor
Thomas I. Palley
April 03, 2006
(Thomas Palley runs the Economics for Democratic and Open Societies Project. He is the author of Plenty of Nothing: The Downsizing of the American Dream and the Case for Structural Keynesianism. His weekly economic policy blog is at

For the last year there has been a widening split in the ranks of American organized labor. This split risks hardening as the new Change To Win coalition increasingly takes on the complexion of a rival labor federation to the AFL-CIO.

Thus far, the argument has focused on union organizing efforts and how unions should be structured. Yet in many ways the split is without purpose, because the AFL-CIO is already largely on the same page as the CTW coalition regarding these issues. All agree that stepped-up organizing efforts are needed and that unions should merge where feasible. This agreement isn’t surprising, since CTW leaders have been powerful members of the AFL-CIO’s executive council for the last decade, where they have profoundly influenced federation policy.

In that light, the split is simply the result of frustration at inability to reverse union decline. That said, there is one major difference in priorities—but it remains out of focus and has not received the attention it deserves. That difference concerns the significance of economic policy and politics in union strategy. It’s an issue that does not warrant a split, but it does warrant prime time and could even provide the frame for a galvanizing debate that jump-starts the entire union movement and changes national politics. This crucial debate can be framed as “sliced bread” versus “the box.”

The “sliced bread” strategy comes out of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is a major force within the CTW coalition. Late last year SEIU launched the “Greatest Idea Since Sliced Bread ” competition, asking ordinary Americans for their ideas about promising policy initiatives. The goal was to launch an unprecedented national conversation about how to strengthen the economy and improve life for working men and women and their families.

The competition was jazzy and attention-grabbing, reflecting the imaginative and innovative characteristics that distinguish SEIU. But “Sliced Bread” was much more than a one-time competition. It was also a statement about where unions should be headed. From the sliced-bread perspective, unions must find those economic initiatives that people want and are both important and doable. The challenge is to work within the existing system, and find a new place for unions.

This view results in talk of “partnering with our employers” and of unions cooperating with outsourcing as long as outsourced workers are organized. When it comes to globalization, there is no going back and unions must adapt innovatively to the new environment, say the CTW leaders. The critical argument is that the core parameters of the economic system are given, and unions have to live and work within those parameters. Only later, after unions have rebuilt themselves, can these parameters be revisited and changed.

The CTW “sliced bread” framework contrasts with "the box," which is an entirely different framework that has gradually emerged at the AFL-CIO—and whose political implications are still being digested. The box depicts workers as boxed in on all sides by the new economic order. Imagine a square whose sides are labeled globalization, less-than-full employment, small government and privatization and labor market flexibility. Private-sector workers are pressured by globalization, which allows corporations to put them in international competition with oppressed low-wage workers. Public-sector workers are pressured by small government and by privatization that places them in competition with private-sector workers.

Both groups are pressed by less-than-full employment and labor market flexibility. Less-than-full employment is where the Federal Reserve enters, putting a floor on unemployment—the Fed views unemployments levels around 6 percent as acceptable in the name of price stability. Labor market flexibility strips workers of employment and social protections, degrades the minimum wage and makes union organizing near impossible.

A box perspective leads to radically different conclusions. The current system has unions running just to stay in place. As quickly as they organize new workers, companies ship existing union jobs offshore. Manufacturing was first to feel this, but in future many parts of the service sector also will. From a box perspective, the problem is systemic and the goal is to change the system—not to adapt to it.

Right now, corporations have workers boxed in. The challenge is to reverse the situation and put CEOs and corporations in the box, as did the institutional innovations of the New Deal. That task is easier said than done. Not only must the economics of corporate globalization be discredited, but new affirmative arguments for an alternative must also be put forward. Keeping score of the failures of today’s global economy is part of the job, but only part. Unions must also provide a compelling alternative to free market rhetoric and ideology, a task that has barely begun.
The CTW "sliced bread" and AFL-CIO box perspectives imply markedly different road maps. The former grudgingly accepts today’s economic structure. Consequently, the policies that determine the structure of the economy and the economic ideas that drive these policies are not the key issue. Instead, organizing is, and the belief is that organizing can be successful regardless of structure. Moreover, since ideas and policy are not on the critical path, unions can even reduce engagement with Washington and party politics.

In stark contrast, the AFL-CIO box demands immediate system change, and that in turn requires new economic arguments that can change policy and politics. Organizing cannot succeed without this change because it is the structure of economic arrangements that is tearing the heart out of unions. Changing the economic policies that shape the economic structure is therefore critical. At the political level, it forces a profound intellectual break with the current Democratic Party elite, since “Rubinomics,” the economics of the Clinton administration, is the box. This is a dramatically different political strategy from reduced political engagement.
Where next? As of the moment the split looks to be festering. This is a tragedy. We need a head-to-head debate on these issues, not a split within organized labor. Meanwhile, for the AFL-CIO the challenge is to break with the Democratic Party elite without splitting the party, as that could hand victory to Republicans, whose version of the box is even more extreme.

Galloway in The Oldie

A drawing of George Galloway gleams on the cover of the latest issue of The Oldie and there is an interview with the gorgeous one by Decca Aitkenhead inside. Aitkenhead captures Galloway's peculiar self-justicatory egotism very well, but he still comes across well.

Stand-out moment is when he talks about his loneliness and says: "UP like a broom handle inh the mornings. I' still a reasonable catch. And I've got quite a lot of money..."

Wallerstein on immigration

Commentary No. 182, April 1, 2006
"Immigration: Backlash to the Backlash?"

The immigration story in the modern world is now a long, repetitive one. People migrate, legally or illegally, for obvious reasons. Economic betterment and escape from persecution are the two principal ones. They migrate where they can, and where economic and political prospects for them are best. This is a major world process, especially if one adds in the migration from rural areas to urban ones within state boundaries.

The recipient areas/countries have always been ambivalent about these migrants. On the one hand, they may fill needs for additional labor, either at the relatively unskilled level or in particular, skilled niches. On the other hand, migrants bring in cultural habits that are different from those of the area to which they migrate and sometimes are reluctant to shed these habits. So, quite frequently in the receiving places, there is a backlash. Migrants are accused of many sins. Some are economic, such as taking away jobs from the natives population in the place or driving down rates of remuneration. Some are social, such as engaging in cultural practices that are seen as abhorrent by the "natives" or increasing the crime rate.

When the world or local situation is one of increased unemployment in general because of stagnation in the world-economy, the presumed sins become more of a public issue and there is a popular (or populist) pressure to enact legislation that will limit entry to the area/country somehow, criminalize illegal migration, and somehow expel the migrants (or large portions of them).

This is occurring dramatically now in the United States, but not in the United States alone. This backlash has been a political phenomenon of some importance in much of Europe, and even in various receiving zones in the rest of the world, such as South Africa, for example. When this occurs, as now in the United States, the two sides are easy to discern. Those in favor of stringent state action against migrants (and not only against illegal migrants) express themselves in xenophobic language, and get support based on a generalized sense of economic and social insecurity in the working and middle classes. This group tends to favor building walls and expulsions of various kinds. They usually are located in more conservative political forces but attract support from some groups that normally support parties more on the left.

Those opposed to stringent state action are in fact two quite different groups. There are the business elites who welcome migrants in the belief that this enables them to keep wage rates down. And to some extent they are right. They thus want migrants to have the right to enter and to work. But they are not anxious that migrants have political rights, which would enable them to fight for higher remuneration. The second group is quite the opposite. It is composed of the targeted groups plus those on the left who favor increasing, not decreasing, social and political rights for the migrants.

As I noted, this is an old story in the modern world. What may be different today is that there is beginning to be a backlash to the backlash. In France, last November, there was an important "rebellion of the underclass" - youths in the ghettos rising up to demand their place in the sun (see Commentary No. 174, Dec. 1, 2005: "The French Riots: Rebellion of the Underclass"). While the rebellion shook the government, which could only contain it after one month of effort, it did not rouse widespread support among the French left, who observed it but did not join it. In the United States, the passage of very repressive legislation by the House of Representatives stimulated the largest demonstration that has ever occurred on this issue. A half million Latinos marched in Los Angeles (and smaller numbers in other cities) in protest. So far, the U.S. left has observed it but has not joined it.

But then, look at what happened in France in March this year. The government introduced a measure without consulting anyone enacting the so-called Contrat Première Embauche (CPE or "First Employment Contract"), authorizing enterprises to hire youth under 26 and permitting them to fire them without explanation within the first two years of employment. This created an important exception to the droit du travail (right to a job), a major conquest of French workers in the post-1945 years. From the government's point of view, this was in part a response to the November rebellion, one of whose complaints was the extremely high unemployment rate of the youth in the ghettos. But, of course, easing the droit du travail has long been a major demand of the employers' association (MEDEF), and this law was seen by them (as some acknowledged publicly) as a first step in eliminating altogether the employment guarantees in general.As soon as the CPE was enacted, there was a major reaction - from the students, from the trade-unions, and yes, from the ghettos. The public demonstrations have been massive. The political struggle is in progress, but it seems likely that the government will be forced to back down. However, what is truly important about what's going on in France is that a backlash about the rights and economic opportunities of migrants has escalated into a backlash about neo-liberalism and its impact on the whole of the population. This means that the issue of concern primarily from a minority of the population has been transformed into an issue that concerns the majority of the population. What happened in France may well occur in the United States.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tariq Ali on the Karachi WSF

March 28, 2006
NGOs or WGOs? The Karachi Social Forum
By TARIQ ALIin Karachi, Pakistan.
While we were opening the World Social Forum in Karachi last weekend with virtuoso performances of sufi music and speeches, the country's rulers were marking the centenary of the Muslim League [the party that created Pakistan and has ever since been passed on from one bunch of rogues to another till now it is in the hands of political pimps who treat it like a bordello] by gifting the organisation to General Pervaiz Musharaf, the country's uniformed ruler.
The secular opposition leaders, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who used to compete with each other to see who could amass more funds while in power, are both in exile. To return home would mean to face arrest for corruption. Neither is in the mood for martyrdom or relinquishing control of their organizations. Meanwhile, the religious parties are happily implementing neo-liberal policies in the North-West Frontier province that is under their control. Incapable of catering to the real needs of the poor they concentrate their fire on women and the godless liberals who defend them.

The military is so secure in its rule and the official politicians so useless that 'civil society' is booming. Private TV channels, like NGOs, have mushroomed and most views are permissible (I was interviewed for an hour by one of these on the "fate of the world communist movement") except a frontal assault on religion or the military and its networks that govern the country. If civil society posed any real threat to the elite, the plaudits it receives would rapidly turn to menace.

It was, thus, no surprise that the WSF, too, had been permitted and facilitated by the local administration in Karachi. It is now part of the globalized landscape and helps backward rulers feel modern. The event itself was no different from the others. Present are several thousand people, mainly from Pakistan, but with a sprinkling of delegates from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Korea and a few other countries.

Absent was any representation from China's burgeoning peasant and workers movements or its critical intelligentsia. Iran, too, was unrepresented as was Malaysia. The Israeli enforcers who run the Jordanian administration harassed a Palestinian delegation. Only a handful of delegates managed to get through the checkpoints and reach Karachi. The huge earthquake in Pakistan last year had disrupted many plans and the organizers were not able to travel and persuade people elsewhere in the continent to come. Otherwise, insisted the organisers, the voices of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Fallujah would have been heard.

The fact that it happened at all in Pakistan was positive. People here are not used to hearing different voices and views. The Forum enabled many from repressed social layers and minority religions to assemble make their voices heard: persecuted Christians from the Punjab, Hindus from Sind, women from everywhere told heart-rending stories of discrimination and oppression.
Present too was a sizeable class-struggle element: peasants fighting against the privatization of military farms in Okara, the fisher-folk from Sind whose livelihoods are under threat and who complained about the great Indus river being diverted to deprive the common people of water they had enjoyed since the beginning of human civilization thousands of years ago, workers from Baluchistan complaining about military brutalities in the region.

Teachers who explained how the educational system in the country had virtually ceased to exist. The common people who spoke were articulate, analytical and angry, in polar contrast to the stale rhetoric of Pakistan's political class. Much of what was said was broadcast on radio and television with the main private networks---Geo, Hum and Indus--- vying with each other to ensure blanket coverage.

And so the WSF like a big feel-good travelling road show came to Pakistan and went. What will it leave behind? Very little, apart from goodwill and the feeling that it has happened here. For the fact remains the elite dominates that politics in the country. Little else matters. Small radical groups are doing their best, but there is no state-wide organisation or movement that speaks for the dispossessed. The social situation is grim, despite the massaged statistics circulated by the World Bank's Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

The NGOs are no substitute for genuine social and political movements. They may be NGOs in Pakistan but in the global scale they are WGOs (Western Governmental Organizations), their cash-flow conditioned by restricted agendas. It is not that some of them are not doing good work, but the overall effect of this has been to atomize the tiny layer of left and liberal intellectuals. Most of these men and women (those who are not in NGOs are embedded in the private media networks) struggle for their individual NGOs to keep the money coming; petty rivalries assumed exaggerated proportions; politics in the sense of grass-roots organisation is virtually non-existent. The Latin American model as emerging in the victories of Chavez and Morales is a far cry from Mumbai or Karachi.

Tariq Ali is author of the recently released Street Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian, Speaking of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at:

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Torture in Algeria

"Can a great nation, liberal by tradition, allow its institutions, its army, and its system of justice to degenerate over the span of a few years as a result of the use of torture, and by its concealment and deceptioon of such a vital issue call the whole Western concept of human dignity and the rights of the individual into question?"

- Pierre Vidal-Naquet Torture: Cancer of Democracy: France and Algeria 1954-62 (a Penguin Special 1963)

Weekly Worker 616 March 30th 2006

Weekly Worker (618, March 30th) provides a strange contrast to Socialist Worker. Where SW found the re-birth of class politics and solidarity, Weekly Worker diagnoses the Journey to Nowhere. Got to say: choose SW, choose life.

WW's focus is on the union leadership rather than the mass participation. Its back page story ('Show of union militancy ' by Alan Stevens) does start with a quick paragraph on the massive support for the strike before moving on to the 'sober assessment of weaknesses and strengths'. Comparison with 1926 or thr 1970s is true only in quantitative terms: yes it is the biggest strike by women. But 1926 and the 1970s were on a higher political and organisational plane. The strategy to win is lacking. There is the attempt to win a turnout, but the limited action is seen as being about getting talks. Stevens moves on to the left and its perspectives, focussing naturally on the SWP and Charlie Kimber's Pensions, profits and resistance pamphlet, which gets praised for its agitational case and criticised for missing out on the 'what is to be done' element. There's reference to Alex Callinicos's 'The politics of the new rank and file' in SW, which does contrast today with the 1970s, neglects the role of the CP in that period and treats demoralisation as a result of Thatcherism. Stevens finishes with a call for a Communist Party right now. Hmm, might be an idea to look at the role of the CP in the 1970s and consider whether if there is something capable of playing the role of the CP now it is the SWP.

Respect gets dealt with a page devoted to Talib Hussain, the former LibDem councillor and council cabinet member who joined Respect, with a good deal of publicity from Respect (a counter to defecions in Tower Hamlets perhaps). However Mr Hussain quickly left Respect and Peter Manson goes through the familiar CPGB critique of SWP opportunism and electoralism. Talib Hussain comes across as a massive and delusional ego (nothing new there then!), but this story will lose the CPGB some more influence in Respect.

Lengthy and heavy theory comes from Mike Macnair in 'Reform coalition or mass strike'. Most interesting point is the frank admission that the belief and call that the Soviets could take power in Russia in 1917. The Bolsheviks took power in the name of the Soviets and it was the Sovnarkom that came to hold power. The whole thing is worth reading and the debate (intervening in the LCR debate) worth following.

Mehdi Kia of Iran Bulletin - Middle East Forum contributes a piece on 'fighting on two fronts' and Ben Lewis gives an in-depth account of political battles inside the Linkspartei. There is a good review of The Proposition, but without enough attention being paid to the role of the aborigines in the film.

Socialist Worker 1994 April 1st 2006

Socialist Worker (1994 April 1st 2006) delayed publication bya day to carry reports from the March 28th pensions strike. There's no mention of 'Red Tuesday', but from the headline 'The Day We Showed Our Power to Win' with the photos linking the British strike with the French protests against the CPE the message is clear. This is the return of working class politics (did SW ever think it had gone away) and solidarity and generally magnificent. Charlie Kimber presents an argument about the way forward, including a TUC national demonstration during the next round of strike action and a foment of grassroots activity.

The coincidence of the French protests on the same day meant a rather good centre-page spread on 'France Revolts' and a history lesson about 1968 from Ian Birchall.

It's all rather lively...

My niggle with this issue is aimed at a letter from Keith Flett, speaking as Convenor of the London socialist Historians Group saying that historians take police figures seriously and as Trafalgar Square holds 30,000 people and was full for several hours and people were coming and going making the estimate of 80,000 credible. He must be worried that the estimates are incredible for such a preposterous fletter! A part of Trafalgar Square was blocked off so it holds 30,000 in theory that figures needs reducing for that particular Saturday. There were a lot of people there, but it wasn't by any means full. 50,000 remains a good optimistic estimate.