Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tory Terrorists More Dangerous Than Child Pornographers

The Tories' "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act" has more to do with suppressing dissent than with stopping child pornographers. I mean, where is the evidence that child pornography is such a major problem that it requires the introduction of a piece of legislation that is a serious intrusion into the right to privacy? Of course, the Tories have never been worried about statistics in their drive to conservatize the nation - a process similar to creating zombies in a lab, methinks. Remember Stockwell Day telling us we needed more prisons to house all those criminals for crimes that aren't being reported?

Nor is this particular clampdown separate from the recently released security reports that label Greenpeace and PETA as extremists and lump them and anti-capitalists (like me!) in with Nazis and terrorists.
“Multi-issue extremists and aboriginal extremists may pursue common causes, and both groups have demonstrated the intent and the capability to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure in Canada,” says a November, 2008, assessment prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Personally, I think that PETA are kind of bonkers but Greenpeace has the " carry out attack against critical infrastructure..."? Really?

What these both speak to is that the Tory agenda is one that makes a meaner, more desperate Canada. In a nation where austerity is the modus operandi of government and the lives of thousands, if not millions, are made more precarious as a result, there will be opposition. In a country where planet-destroying oil projects are the new model for economic growth, regardless of the cost in terms of environmental destruction and the health of rural and aboriginal communities - people will organize to prevent it from taking place.

No, if the Tories wanted to protect our children they wouldn't have scrapped the national childcare act when they were first elected - or for that matter the Kelowna Accord with Canada's aboriginal peoples that would have gone some distance to eliminating poverty on the nation's disgraceful reserves. If they wanted to keep Canadian infrastructure safe they wouldn't be giving tax breaks to companies like Caterpillar that are smashing our manufacturing capabilities and destroying jobs.

The Tories don't care about children, they bomb them in Afghanistan, close their daycares, and drive their parents into poverty. The Tories don't oppose terrorism, they support corporate terrorism and state terrorism. The Tories are the biggest threat we face.

Facing a backlash, Ottawa moves to retool cybercrime bill - The Globe and Mail:

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Apple's $98 Billion Is Blood Money

Protestors demonstrate against Apple

There's a lot of hand-waving around Apple's use of sweat shop labour in China. Apple CEO Tim Cook is offended and outraged by the mere suggestion that Apple engages in poor labour practices. And now they've sent the "Fair Labor Association" into Foxconn to perform an "audit" of labour practices at the company.

It's all bullshit.

Know how I know? Because Apple has $98 billion and the Chinese workers who make their shit have zilch. Because Tim Cook got this:

In an SEC filing, Apple revealed that it awarded Cook with 1 million shares of Apple stock. At today’s closing price of $383.58, his new stock is worth $383 million.

However Apple workers get this:

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.
And what are they paid for the privilege of crappy work in sometimes dangerous conditions? According to an article in the Guardian they get as little as $8.16 PER DAY. Let's do some quick math, shall we? A Chinese Apple worker would have to toil for 47 million days (that's 128,787 years) to make as much money as Cook received in a BONUS last year. Or, put differently, all of Foxconn's 500,000 workers have to work for three months to make us much as Cook.

So, I don't care if Apple builds Foxconn workers a new cafeteria or the Scab Fair Labor Association goes a little walkabout with company management to take iPhone pics of the smiling, happy workers that are lined up to prove how great their jobs are. In the context of the Chinese dictatorship, which penalizes any attempt to form independent unions, this can be nothing but a charade.

And let's face it, Tim Cook is CEO precisely because he is the Apple executive most responsible for setting up Apple's lauded "supply chains" - i.e. Walmart style narrow profit margins for suppliers in third world countries, primarily China. They didn't make Tim Forstall, the guy who heads up Apple's iOS development - the software in Apple's most successful hardware line-ups, like the iPhone, iPad and iPod. They didn't make Jonathon Ives, the man behind Apple's signature design style, the CEO. No, they made the sweatshop master their big boss - because making profits is Apple's first priority.

So, when Tim Cook says in one breath that he is offended by the suggestion that Apple profits from sweatshops - and in the other talks about how they are trying to decide what to do with their $98 billion cash horde - he is lying. That $98 billion doesn't belong to shareholders, whose prime quality that they have brought to Apple is the fact that they are giant investment funds and super wealthy investors. It belongs to the hundreds of thousands of workers who make the products from which Apple profits so heavily. But don't expect Apple to give any significant amount of that money to the workers - for one thing generosity of spirit is penalized by the stock market. If it goes anywhere, other than into making Apple even bigger, it will be to those wealthy shareholders who have already profited heavily - with Apple's stock having risen 20% in the last year alone. In other words, that $98 billion is stolen money - and in the context of worker suicides and life-shortening hard labour in Apple suppliers' factories, it is even worse than that. It is blood money.

Apple CEO seeks ‘patience’ from investors on $98-billion cash horde - The Globe and Mail:

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Monday, February 13, 2012

[VIDEO] Egyptian Journalist & Blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy On Workers & Egypt's Revolution

This is an excellent talk on the role of workers in the ongoing Egyptian revolution and the state of the revolutionary struggle in Egypt today. Fascinating, inspiring - and sobering - stuff.

Arab Dictatorships Want To Kill Syrian Revolution

The first thing that has to be said is that the Syrian people are bravely resisting and suffering under - first and foremost - the brutal Syrian regime. But the second thing that must be added is that they are suffering a second misery, which is to be the pawns of a cynical maneuvering by rival empires and Arab dictatorships.

On the looming anniversary of the Bahraini democratic uprising, which was crushed by Saudi tanks, it is more than a little rich for the Saudi foreign minister at the United Nations to be bemoaning the lack of support for the Syrian people to resist the government.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal conveyed the 22-nation league's deep frustration with Syria, telling delegates that it was no longer appropriate to stand by and watch the bloodshed.
"Until when will we remain spectators?" he said. The bloodshed in Syria "is a disgrace for us as Muslims and Arabs to accept."
In fact, as these miserable dictators are shedding crocodile tears for the Syrians they are cheering on the repression that continues apace in Bahrain with life sentences for activists, blacklists and purges of people from their jobs. And today as Bahrainis attempt to mark the anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy movement are they faced with Saudi flowers? Not likely:
Monday's march by thousands of opposition supporters to Manama's Pearl Square is the largest attempt in months to retake the central roundabout that served as the epicenter of weeks of protests last year by Bahrain's Shiite majority against the ruling Sunni dynasty.
The government has deployed thousands of security forces to prevent the opposition from staging a mass rally to mark Tuesday's one-year of the revolt.
Bahrain imposed martial law in March to quell the protests. Emergency rule was lifted in June, but clashes still occur on an almost daily basis.
No, this proposal for a UN-backed, Arab League peacekeeping force is nothing more than the most cynical maneuverings to remove a regime that has not only been a thorn in the side of the Saudis and the lunatic sectarian dictatorships that dominate the Gulf. It is also about the rabid sectarianism of the Saudi (and Bahraini) regimes, who are Sunni Muslim and not only oppress their indigenous Shi'ite populations (in Bahrain's case, they are the majority of the population in a Sunni kingdom), but see Shi'ite Iran as the enemy. Allowing the troops of Gulf dictatorships to intervene in the Syrian revolution would be a disaster and a death blow for the revolution as surely as inviting Russia to send peacekeeping troops.

Of course the United States says nothing about the repression in Bahrain for the exact same reason that Russia continues to back the Syrian regime. In neither case does it have anything to do with fears of civil war, human rights, sovereignty or any of the other flowery language they employ to dress up their evil intentions. It is quite simple. The United States fifth fleet is stationed in Bahrain and Russia's only Mediterranean naval base is located in Syria. It is entirely about imperial jockeying for position in a strategically important region.

In the end, this jockeying is hurting the Syrian people (and the Bahraini people). Russia continues to back a bloody Syrian dictatorship as it bombs its own people. America, Europe and the Saudis look for the most retrograde sections of the movement, preferably Sunni regime defectors, the Muslim Brotherhood - who are proving reliably moderate in Egypt - or even Salafists, to back or to intervene directly to shape any new regime. This is the Libyan model mark 2: intervene in a popular revolt to steer it in the direction of benefiting American imperialism. The result, if they are successful is a lost revolution and dashed aspirations for true democracy and social justice, just as in Libya. In that country it has led to growing anger and protests against the west's favourite neo-liberal revolutionaries, including the storming and destruction of NTC offices last month.
Behind these protests, and mounting discontent, is growing disillusion with the NTC and its attempts to limit and stunt expectations that emerged during last year's uprising. The NTC is seen as corrupt and riddled with nepotism, and is widely perceived as trying to create a new patronage system based on regional and tribal interests.
The only hope that exists for the Syrian revolt is the continued disintegration of the Syrian regime under pressure of the movement, the army defections, etc. That process seems to be continuing apace - though it is difficult to tell outside of the country with the clampdown on media and the conditions of near civil war. In this sense the division and lack of consensus between the imperial powers - divided as they are between mutually conflicting strategic interests - may serve not only to give the Syrian regime time to crush the revolt (something that Russia would like to see and may yet offer peacekeepers to aid) but also to buy time for the movement to deepen and degrade the ability of the state to implement its murderous policies.

Russia 'to consider' Syria peacekeeping plan - Middle East - Al Jazeera English:

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greece: You Say You Want A Revolution?

It's hard to make sense of the hubris and cruelty of European Union leaders towards Greece, unless their goal is to goad the Greek population into overthrowing their government. Why else would they demand from the Greeks ever greater levels of austerity, poverty and unemployment and then, when the government turtles and capitulates to their demands, tell them it isn't enough?

Just look at the most recent round of austerity - a 22% cut in the minimum wage, 150,000 public sector jobs to be cut out of 750,000, further attacks on Greek pensions, weakening labour rights and so on and so forth. They also demanded that the Greek government sign an agreement that no matter who is elected they will implement the austerity. So much for democracy and self-determination.

Of course, from the point of view of the Greek ruling class this is pain that they can accept - since it won't be them who suffers it but, rather, the working class. And, from the opposite end of the spectrum, if there is a "disorderly default" it will be the ruling class who suffers - the banks that won't have access to capital markets, the losses incurred by Greek bond holders, etc.

Of course, there's a certain irony in the militant prickishness of the German ruling class and their toadying, bigoted newspapers with their talk of lazy, overpaid Greeks. The existence of weaker economies inside of the EU keeps the Euro from rising. A lower Euro benefits the German export machine and has allowed the German economy to boom. If Germany were to return to the mark some estimate that it would immediately appreciate by 40%.  Germany thrives on Greece's misery. On the other hand, for the weaker economies, being in the same currency with an advanced economic powerhouse like Germany means that they are stuck with a higher valued Euro, which hobbles their ability to compete. So it is rich for the Germans to gripe about the Greeks. If it weren't for the poverty of the Greeks the German economy wouldn't be chugging along as it is.

Frankly, the Greeks would be better off defaulting and getting the hell out of the Euro, then devaluing their currency so that their goods can sell cheaply abroad(or more deliciously, to Germany herself). The alternative is clear - an endless cycle of austerity generated recession that leads to a contraction in tax income for the state, which leads to a deteriorating debt situation followed by demands for more austerity to receive another bailout. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. You don't have to be a Marxist to make this point, it has been argued cogently by Nouriel Roubini for months.

But the only way that any default will occur that can be worked to the advantage of Greek workers will be if it is one forced upon the Greek state by the Greek working class itself. And this isn't a pipe dream. In the last week there have been back-to-back general strikes - a 24 hour at the beginning of the week, followed by another 48 hour strike on Friday and Saturday. By all accounts both were solid. There is a deepening radicalization amongst Greek workers that has seen support for parties to the left of the Greek Labour Party PASOK growing rapidly so that their combined vote is now the highest for all parties. And the movement is deepening its roots amongst ordinary people, with workers beginning to create alternative sources of power and control where the state and employers have withdrawn.
“We have now been on strike since 22 December because our wages have been left unpaid for seven months,” says Moises [who works for Eleftherotypia, the second largest newspaper in Greece].
“But now we’re launching our own newspaper, The Workers in Eleftherotypia, on Wednesday. This is part of a new wave of radicalism in the workers movement in Greece.”
 And Costas Katarachias, a doctor and union general secretary at Agios Savvas cancer hospital in Athens, tells us about the move towards health workers seizing control of their workplaces.
 “At Kilkis hospital they have already started taking the hospital under workers’ control,” he says. “The procedure is under way, but there are steps to taking full control.”
Of course, the truth is not that the European ruling class wants a revolution in Greece. What they want is to punish and humiliate one of the most militant working classes in Europe as a lesson to every other working class movement. And they want to scare every government on the continent that tries to cut some kind of moderate path. They want absolute subordination to the dictates of the banks - who caused the crisis, after all - and to the market. And they are so contemptuous of ordinary people that they don't believe a revolution will be the result. Let's hope that they have a rude awakening because the alternative is a decade or more of misery for Greek workers. And that painful and destructive experiment won't end in Greece.

BBC News - Greece bailout: PM Lucas Papademos gives final warning:

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Friday, February 10, 2012

February 11: The Day Egypt's Revolution Kicks Out The Jams

The last year the revolution in Egypt has been a source of inspiration to people around the world. It has spawned movement across the region and, indeed across the world. In the minds of the ruling class it has inspired fear from China where mention of the Egyptian revolution was (and probably still is) banned on the heavily censored internet - to here in the west where our rulers have tried to contain the damage wrought by the Arab Spring - crushing a similar revolt in Bahrain, trying to co-opt and defang the revolution in Yemen, deflecting the revolution in Libya into a military competition with minimal political content, etc.

And yet the Egyptian revolution continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It has broken the deadlock that tried to suggest only quiet, polite, legal channels - negotiations between our betters, or wars between them (fought by us) when those negotiations broke down - were legitimate routes to change. Change from below - by the 99% is the new vogue because of Egypt and that's a fashion statement I can get behind.

It has challenged the neo-liberal belief in the supremacy of the market and the inevitable decline in union and worker power with an explosion of independent unionism, spontaneous strike waves and campaigns for the renationalization of privatized industries. It has smashed through the image of Arabs as backward, bigoted and sexist, and has led to a flowering of culture and even science that is historic. I believe that it will be at least a decade before we come to truly understand the impact of the Egyptian revolution on world history.

Keep that in mind this Saturday, February 11 - the anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator. Workers, students, peasants, revolutionaries - millions of people - look set to take part in a national general strike. They will be celebrating getting rid of one dictator by stepping up to finish the job. It may not go as planned and it may be a dud in the end. Every establishment figure from the military council that are running the country - the SCAF - to the Muslim Brotherhood, leading Islamic scholars and the Pope of the Coptic Church are all denouncing the planned strike and civil disobedience campaign.

There is an incredible pressure on workers to call off this show of force. But if it does take place it will have forced a further cleavage into Egypt, demonstrating who is with the revolution until victory and who were only along for the ride as far as it benefited them and their circles. The question on the table is: will the revolution free ALL of Egypt, or just a privileged layer. This Saturday could be the beginning of the answer to that question. It's a hell of a lot more exciting than the Superbowl - and rather more important, don't you think?

Like You Needed To Be Told The Ford Bros Were Full Of S**T

Here was Mayor Rob Ford's equally odious brother, Doug Ford at the transit debate on Wednesday: "The St. Clair streetcar is a total disaster."

Ahem..oh, really?

Much maligned St. Clair line not so bad after all - The Globe and Mail: "Since the June, 2010, completion of the right-of-way from Yonge Street to Gunns Loop, overall traffic and peak-period volumes have fallen sharply; transit ridership has jumped 13 per cent, while service frequency has improved; and collisions and personal injuries have plummeted by a third, according to city and TTC data compiled by The Globe and Mail. The St. Clair line now ranks eighth for productivity (boardings per hour) among the TTC’s 150 surface routes (the top spot belongs to the Spadina LRT), according to Mitch Stambler, the TTC’s manager of service planning."

Jeez, we thought Mel Lastman was embarrassing.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thank The Occupy Movement For Mayor Ford's Transit Defeat

I'm mad! Muley, mean mad.
Of course I know that it was a revolt by city councillors against the hare-brained, disastrous transit "policy" of Toronto Mayor Rob "I love gridlock" Ford. And it was the sweetest of sweet defeats against the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum who like to think that they run the show like little Mubaraks. Here was Ford's handpicked chair of the TTC sticking the mandate he gave her right back up his honour's rump. It rarely gets better than that. And Ford's attempt at anti-democratic bravado - that the decision of the democratically elected council was irrelevant - looked pathetic and dumb. Even one of his biggest allies on council on this issue, Denzil Minnan-Wong, called him out on it.

But let's be honest, City Councillor got the unity and the spine to take on Rob Ford because of the Occupy movement. Since even before the election the councillors have been on the defensive in the face of the right wing on city council. The "left" voted in favour of Giorgio Mamollitti's motion in support of the most expensive and disastrous police clampdown in the history of the city after the G20. Even though there were already widespread reports of police kettling and arresting innocent people in a roundup that put the October Crisis to shame; of bursting into the homes of innocent people in the middle of the night; of press conference with so-called weapons (like the guy whose role playing, foam arrows were confiscated) that were supposedly confiscated, etc etc ad nauseam.

And after the election of the dynamic duo Ford Brothers it was even worse. Everybody thought they were Skeletor to the left's Wimpy. The left did nothing to stop garbage privatization. Nothing. Oh, they got an impact review that is meaningless because it will be too late to do anything by then.

What happened to change this around? What stiffened spines and made middle ground types - like TTC Chair Karen Stinz - align with the left on council? A small thing: Egypt had a revolution and the Middle East from end to end exploded into open revolt. That victory had the knock-on effect of inspiring movements in other parts of the world - like the Greek general strikes and the Indignados who occupied city squares in Spain. Here in North America, and in Britain, it was the Occupy Movement that was the manifestation of the inspiration generated by Egypt. Occupy Toronto's consistent mobilizations and ability to keep an occupation in a downtown park going for weeks and weeks, building the idea of the need to fight for the 99% on the agenda, had an impact on the political culture of Toronto - and of the continent. It's no accident that Obama started talking out of the populist side of his mouth, using language appropriated from the movement.

And so councillors began to take on Ford, challenging him. Then there was the very successful campaign by the library workers union and the outpouring of opposition to Ford's cuts agenda. And even if the city workers settled for a deal that included significant concessions, in particular for young workers, Ford felt less confident to really go after core union rights. There was also a sense with the Ford brothers' bungling of the waterfront redevelopment project that they were a problem for even the business community, cost them allies amongst the Toronto ruling class.

All of this has fed a cycle of ever larger gaffes and ever larger defeats on the part of Ford. And that has increased the confidence of the opposition on council to take Ford on. It helps that Ford has all the political acumen of a punch drunk bar brawler. When his punches are connecting they do a lot of damage and he can win the support of people who love to see a born loser win. But it doesn't take much for his swings to turn wild and do nothing but hit air and throw him off balance. Then, like now, he just looks like a pathetic bully.

My prediction is that Ford is never going to win a second term. He's used up his political capital and his allies - most of them toadying opportunists or freakshows like Mamollitti - are going to start jumping ship in a Stinz-like fashion. What is needed is for his negative momentum to be maintained by an emboldened council, which can start to dismantle his entire agenda, delicious piece by delicious piece. Given their, shall we say, weak past that's not guaranteed. To keep spines stiff on city council we need more revolution in Egypt and more Occupy, under whatever name they want to use, at home. Struggle can finish off this staggering bully once and for all.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Psst...Torture's OK. Pass It On.

Vic Toews, Minister of Torture and Morality
We've always known that the Tories mission is to makeover Canada into a far-right Republican spa resort by stealth, since most Canadians hold values to the left of their lunacy. So, they change tax rules for film financing here and chip into same sex marriage by removing it as a right for foreigners there. Bit by bit until next thing you know we're a vacation paradise for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum after they lose the Republican nomination.

Well, here's another tasty treat of Tory hypocritical fuckery to enjoy. Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, quietly told CSIS that it was OK to use "information" obtained under torture to "make the protection of life and property its overriding priority."

Will this be effective? Of course it will. Why, if some Tory banker sticks bamboo under my nails and attaches electrodes to my genitals I'll confess to keying his or her Rolls Royce - even if I didn't do it. In fact, I'll tell you anything you want to hear. Isn't that great? It's like a way to get information from anyone on anything. In fact, to really protect life and property we ought to find volunteers to be like those bald people in the jacuzzi in Minority Report's department of pre-crime. It could be an internship opportunity to serve their country for budding young conservatives - like Ezra Levant - to help us find out wherever in the world evil is being done and to stomp it out with our now highly funded Armed Forces.

Or maybe that information extraction technique only works on brown people of the Muslim persuasion. Unfortunate for them that they have to save Canadian lives and property by surrendering their um... lives and property.

No matter, what's important is that this stuff is an excellent opportunity to protect our way of life. While we're at it maybe we could use torture to defend the traditional definition of marriage by discovering those who are about to threaten it - a cause dear to Vic's heart. And maybe through the creative use of torture we could find out exactly when an embryo becomes a human so we know when to ban abortion and imprison women who seek it out - maybe even before they seek it out. Or is it hypocritical and unChristian to degrade the sanctity of human life in order to protect the sanctity of human life? Perhaps we can torture someone to find out. Or, better yet, ignore the problem and just head on to the gay bathhouse with Vic "Minister of Family Values" Toews for a little two on one fun.

Now the Minister of Family Values has struck again, this time making an appearance a couple weeks ago on "Co-ed night" with another young lady at a Winnipeg Gay Bathhouse called "Aquarius" . Toews arrived with the woman while wearing a hat and sunglasses and the couple rented a room where Toews stayed in the entire evening while his young lady friend cruised the bathhouse looking for playmates. We are told a husband and wife couple joined Vic and his friend in their room for over an hour before Toews left on his own a couple hours later. We don't know the details of what went on in that room......we will leave that to your imagination.

Ottawa tells spies to use possible torture info in ‘exceptional’ cases - The Globe and Mail:

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Caterpillar Won Because Nobody Fought Hard Enough

It doesn't have to be this way. We built this country, this economy and this world. We don't have to mourn the loss of more jobs, this time sent to a union-busting "right to work" state, Indiana, for half the wages. It isn't inevitable that our wages, pensions, benefits - or social programs for that matter - are cut. Caterpillar didn't have to happen. It was a choice.

First and foremost it was a choice by Caterpillar. Let's be plain and honest here: Caterpillar bought the Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) plant for one purpose only: to asset strip it. In this case, the most valuable assets were the intellectual property (IP) owned by EMD. IP is big news and big business these days. Apple is suing the makers of Android phones and the makers of Android phones are suing Apple in pretty much every jurisdiction on the planet. Why? IP. Google paid a whopping $12.5 billion to buy Motorola, a failing phone company, last year. Why? To get access to its IP so it wouldn't get sued, most likely by Apple.

Does anyone really believe that Caterpillar wanted anything other than that? Would a company that really wanted to keep a business rolling go into bargaining - only a year after purchasing the company – demanding a 50% wage cut, plus major concessions on pensions and benefits, refuse to budge on those outrageous demands, then lock-out the workers and, finally, shut the plant down permanently just five weeks later? They had the chutzpah to hold a 'job fair' in Indiana the same weekend that they shut down the plant, 36 hours after the governor of Indiana passed so-called "right-to-work" legislation making it harder to unionize in that state. I'm not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch but sometimes people plan to do evil long before they do it - and this was one of those times.

And it's not like it's the only time they have planned and executed evil. Caterpillar – one of the most profitable companies in the USA – brought in $4.9 billion in profit last year on sales of $60.1 billion. That was an 83 percent increase in profits from the year before. How did they make these bales of cash? I'll give you one hint:

On January 27, 2009, Caterpillar laid off 20,000 employees, which is some kind of record. The ostensible reason was to gird for the global recession. But in the short time since, Cat’s revenues have doubled, profits have quadrupled and its stock price has soared by 270 per cent. The recession has provided cover for countless firms squeezing more revenue from fewer and lower-paid workers.

Nor does Caterpillar's despicable behaviour end there. Back in 1991 they shut down a Brampton plant rather than pay decent union wages. A couple of years later they went after workers in Decatur, Illinois squeezing deep concessions after a lengthy battle. Nor is it only in the area of union busting that Caterpillar displays its nastiness. This is, after all, a company that has made huge profits selling bulldozers to the state of Israel that are used to destroy Palestinian houses.

[Caterpillar] supply equipment, like the D9 armoured bulldozer, which is used by the Israeli army to destroy Palestinian homes. The corporation refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the thousands of homes demolished in the West Bank and Gaza using Caterpillar equipment. The price of opposing bullies can be high: in March 2003, U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier, as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian family's home.
There can be no doubt that Caterpillar are terrible. But they have been aided and abetted by government at every turn and every level. This too was a choice. They could have fought for these jobs, demanded that Caterpillar not shut the plant down or seized their assets. They didn't and they won't. The Tories base in the resource rich west, which has benefited from the Chinese boom with rapid economic expansion. And the Tories love union busting, free market greed above all else. Insofar as they fight for anything beyond their own enrichment (or free helicopter flights in the case of Peter McKay) it is this.

It will hopefully come back to haunt Stephen Harper that only four years ago, in March 2008, he made a tour of the EMD plant to demonstrate how Tory tax cuts - in this case amounting to a $5 million windfall for Caterpillar – were creating jobs. But if there is a cost it won't be in lost sleep and don't expect any mea culpas from the Tories. Their response was to make the politically correct statement about feeling the pain of all those workers - and then blaming the provincial Liberals. The Liberals blamed the Tories. Whew. Now that we know neither of them are to blame. Nor should anyone be under any illusion that an NDP government would be much different. After all, the plant closure in 1991 in Brampton came under the tenure of the Ontario NDP at the height of its popularity. What did they do? Nada.

Knowing that there will be no help from any of the political parties will be important for workers in the present climate of public and private sector austerity that has seen big battles in recent times. There was last year's battle at Stelco against U.S. Steel and the recent lockout of Rio Tinto Alcan workers in Quebec. Workers at Stelco fought a rearguard battle in Hamilton last year to defend pensions - and will face 200 layoffs in April. The Tories last year forced the postal workers back to work with a worse contract than the one they struck against, then moved to legislate back Air Canada flight attendants, calling their jobs an essential service. This comes on top of big concessions squeezed from auto workers after the 2008 economic meltdown that drove Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy protection. Everywhere, employers are using the crisis - caused by employers - to make workers pay. And governments everywhere are helping them.

My guess is that everyone who is reading this will agree with everything I've said thus far. In fact, my guess is that I'm preaching to the converted. What is more controversial is what can be done. Because even though corporations and government are in synch when it comes to ruining our lives it still isn't inevitable.

In this battle workers only have unions to defend them. But the trouble is, the unions aren't doing very much at all. Certainly, some union locals are waging brave battles - the workers at Stelco braved picket lines for months. But lost have been the traditions that built the industrial unions in the first place - militant tactics, including sit-ins and picket lines that did more than hand out information to those that crossed them. The sort of passivity and reliance on polite bargaining in hotel rooms that has typified the union movement on this continent for so long worked (sometimes) in the 1950s and 1960s when the post-war boom kept the economy expanding and able to provide wage raises and benefits to workers. For a while we were shielded in Canada by our low dollar which made up for higher wages and better work conditions. But the dollar rose and China came on the scene, eliminating those competitive advantages. Suddenly our belief that Canadian unions were more progressive or more militant - which was the justification for the CAW's split from the UAW back in the 1980s - was shown to be a delusion. 

The salad days are gone and, sad to say, somebody forgot to tell the union leadership. Or rather, what they told them was that you can't win and the best that you can do is negotiate how clean is the straight razor that they use to slit your throat. It means that all the fights are given up before they're even begun. That's why the big solidarity rally on January 21 at EMD was moved 5 miles away from the picket line. If you can't win - why get everyone all riled up at the plant gate? What's more important is to appear respectable so that the employer will come back to the table and not give them the excuse to refuse to bargain. And, from the point of view of CAW President Ken Lewenza, the problem is not that EMD shut the plant and laid off the workers - it's that they didn't negotiate the closure with the union.

[Lewenza] said that during bargaining in December, he told the company’s negotiators: “If it’s in your business plan to close us, don’t punish us, let’s work out a closure agreement. They said: ‘We have no intention of closing the facility.’ ”
CAW once prided itself on being, unlike the UAW, the union that doesn't negotiate concessions. Not only did they accept concessions during the 2008 crisis, now here he is saying that they were ready, without a fight to accept the closure of a profitable plant. What this reveals more than anything is that workers have a twofold battle. Not only must they fight the employer, more often than not they must also fight their union leadership who are interested in negotiating "in good faith" not in kicking greedy boss ass. 

But the lesson that ought to be clear by now is that the bosses will keep on taking and taking and taking until they've squeezed every drop of blood from working people. The only thing that they are interested in is profits and until workers start to hit them in their profits - and hard - they will ignore all the niceties: the conciliation reports, the negotiating meetings, the grievances, even the rallies by thousands of supporters that are held miles from the site of the conflict. In Egypt they didn't negotiate the end of the dictatorship - they fought for it. And workers in Egypt's privatized industries haven't won the re-nationalization of their companies by mediated settlement - they went on strike and then won in court...and have had to strike to get the court decisions implemented. In China auto workers won big raises in recent years, not by waiting for employers to grant it to them but by staging a series of wildcat strikes in conditions where independent unions are illegal along with strikes. The lesson we ought to draw from Caterpillar and EMD is this: unless we fight like our lives depended upon it, they will take our lives away from us. That doesn't mean our side will win all the time but at least we'll know that if we lost we gave them everything we had.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Drops The "H-Bomb"

I'm not talking about that other H-bomb, the one that the US government dropped on innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No, I'm talking about Adolph Hitler, yes, that H-Bomb. Every time our leaders want to justify a war against another people they whip out the Hitler's name. He is our Great Satan, the face of incomprehensible evil. There is nothing to be understood about Hitler, he was made of pure brimstone and, therefore, whenever he is reincarnated - which happens fairly often - he must be wiped out utterly and completely.

It's rather convenient and closes the door off from any sort of critical thinking at a moment when critical thinking should be at an absolute premium - prior to war. So, it has been used to label Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe and that favourite of mine "Islamofascism", which tars an entire religious tradition with being Hitler. This time, of course, it is the incomparably stupid and opportunist Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, who whipped it out after his fanboy tour of Israel.
“Obviously when the influential leader of Iran said [Friday] that he wanted to remove a cancer from the Middle East and remove Israel from the map, obviously you can understand why the Jewish people, why Israel would take him seriously,” he said. “Hitler wrote Mein Kampf more than a decade before he became Chancellor of Germany and they take these issues pretty seriously here. But it’s not just an Israeli question. The fear in the Arab world, in the entire region, the Gulf, and the entire Middle East is palpable on this issue. And it’s increasingly a significant security threat for the West: for Canada, the United States and our allies in Europe.”
And there you have it. Israel equals the Jews, Iran wants to eliminate Israel therefore Iran wants to eliminate the Jews. Adolph Hitler wanted to eliminate the Jews. Iran is like Nazi Germany and its leadership is like Hitler. Bombs Away!

Except that it's rather more complex than our Tory friend, apparently, can fathom. First off there is no necessary identity between Jewishness and Zionism or Israel as John Baird - a tireless promoter of Israel - demonstrates. But, on the other side, Jews have been some of the most vocal opponents of Israel and its policies, from Norman Finklestein to Noam Chomsky to Shlomo Sand. Zionism and the founding of Israel was one amongst several political responses to anti-Semitism in Europe prior to World War Two.

Secondly, Baird demonstrates his inability to understand context. The Middle East is not Europe or North America, where Jews were historically terribly oppressed, particularly in Eastern Europe where pogroms were too often a matter of course - not to mention the ultimate pogrom, the terror of the Holocaust. That is not the history of the historic Jewish communities of the Middle East. The antipathy towards Israel is rooted rather in the fact that Israel is a settler-state, whose existence is founded upon the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population and whose continued existence is premised upon its service to the American empire as a Sparta - an armed camp - to control uncooperative Arab regimes... like that in Iran.

Thirdly, Iran poses no threat to Europe or North America, unless we're talking about imperial interests in the Middle East. Iran's leadership are no radical democrats or serious anti-imperialists. They rule their country like our rulers rule theirs: in the interests of a ruling class who own and control all the levers of political and economic power. Iran has democratic elections - just like us. And it suppresses rights that are inconvenient, just like us. It's true that Iran is rather more repressive than, say, Canada. But it is a matter of degrees as the participants in the Occupy Oakland protests found out, or the G20 protestors in Toronto. But, in any case, even if Iran is qualitatively more repressive than North American governments it would be simple hypocrisy to suggest that we have any problems with dictatorships - after all, Stephen Harper has been touring China - a much more repressive regime - sucking up to any Communist Party bigwig that he could in order to sell our natural resources to them. Then there are "our allies" in the Middle East, like the Saudi dictatorship and the former dictator of Yemen. We have not a single problem with dictatorships.

And the idea that there is "palpable fear" in Israel is just so much bunk. How many countries has Iran attacked or invaded since the Iranian revolution in 1979? Zero. How many has Israel? Well, they bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 in a rather deja vu claim about it being intended for military purposes.

Iraq and France claimed that the Iraqi reactor was intended for peaceful scientific research.[8] Agreements between France and Iraq excluded military use. The American private intelligence agency STRATFOR wrote in 2007 that the reactor "was believed to be on the verge of producing plutonium for a weapons program". In a 2003 speech, Richard Wilson, a professor of physics at Harvard University who visually inspected the partially damaged reactor in December 1982, said that "to collect enough plutonium [for a nuclear weapon] using Osirak would've taken decades, not years". In 2005, Wilson further commented in The Atlantic: the Osirak reactor that was bombed by Israel in June of 1981 was explicitly designed by the French engineer Yves Girard to be unsuitable for making bombs. That was obvious to me on my 1982 visit.
In addition to the Iraq bombing, Israel invaded Lebanon (for the second time) in 1982 and again in 2006. They invaded Gaza in 2008-2009, leading to widespread human rights abuses and destruction - which the Palestinians have been prevented from repairing by the Israeli blockade. Of course, if we went back farther we'd see that since Israel's founding (and since the majority of Jews at the founding were Europeans, one could easily argue that this was the first invasion) it has invaded Syria in 1951, Egypt in 1956, and in 1967 Israel attacked Syria, Egypt and Jordan. It is also likely that Israel is involved in the present covert (and illegal) operations against Iranian nuclear scientists and infrastructure. It's also worth noting that this, the most belligerent country in the region, is the only one that has nuclear weapons.

So, John Baird's H-bomb is meant as nothing more than mere handwaving to distract us from the truth of the situation in the region. It's job is to put the question of Iran outside of rational discourse. To even question the bellicose rhetoric is an admission that you WANT TO KILL THE JEWS! The idea is so stupid as to be utterly laughable, were it not so terribly dangerous and were it not for the fact that they are playing with the lives of tens of thousands of people. But then, who would expect anything less from people who would use the memory of the Holocaust for such cynical ends.

Baird compares Iran’s threats to Hitler's racist book - The Globe and Mail:

'via Blog this'

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is America Worried Israel Is Gonna Go Ape Shit On Iran?

Apparently the US Defence Secretary Leo Panetta is very worried that Israel will attack Iran come March. Those Israelis just can't control themselves in the face of Iran's intransigence over their - admittedly non-military - nuclear program. I mean, what if, you know, Iran decided down the road to make nukes. Then Israel wouldn't be the only country in the Middle East or, as Israel likes to put it - the only democracy in the Middle East. Oh, wait, Iran has democratic elections, don't they. Come to think of it, Egypt is now democratic. Oh, and then there's the fact that the Israeli government has vociferously opposed the democracy movements because only dictatorships can keep Israel safe from those ignorant Arabs with their hatred of Zionist colonialism Israel's right to exist.

Well, there's no doubt that Israel is as crazy as a Christian fundamentalist at a pagan sex party. I mean, besides their 44-year old illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, they have invaded and attacked their neighbours more often than America has overthrown unfriendly governments. Well, maybe not. But certainly lots of times. Iran? They have never started a war or invaded their neighbours. Not once. And while their government is repressive you can't call them warmongers. The Israeli government you definitely can.

And that brings us back to the point: Israel does what it does not because Jews are more prone to war and not even because zionism as an ideology is per se based upon behaving in a crazy, war mongering way. But for Zionism to exist as a small colony built on stolen land, surrounded by much larger numbers of people it degrades in a manner not dissimilar to South African apartheid, it needs two things: 1) a highly militarized culture, which valorizes violence and oppression against Arabs and a set of national priorities that values a big military and 2) an outside benefactor. In fact, it needs a very big, very powerful benefactor. And that benefactor is the American empire.

To the US of A, Israel is their largest foreign military base. It's so large that it has not only all the trappings of a military base, it even has some of its own industry. Just like Fort Bragg may have auto body shops and some restaurants on base, Israel also has industries to service it military but multiplied by a factor of one hundred. All of which is to say that Israel only exists at the pleasure of the United States government. Without the $3-$5 billion in cash and other forms of aid that Israel receives every year, plus the military and political backing of the United States, Israel wouldn't last a month - economically, politically, territorially. (well, we ought to add that the $1.3 billion bribe that is paid to the Egyptian dictatorship also bought peace for Israel)

Of course, Israel often chafes at this subordinate, dependent position and tries to develop some independent relationships - trade deals, sporting and cultural exchanges with other countries, etc -  so that it has leverage on its benefactor. But, in the end, it is not the Israel tail that wags this big American dog. So, the idea that Israel will launch an attack on Iran without the say-so of the President of the United States is stupid. This is America using its attack dog as it has always done - as a stick to try and beat its regional opponents. It is politically inexpedient for America to directly threaten to attack Iran - after the unpopularity of the Iraq war plus the Afghan adventure, it won't fly. So, Israel will do the military dirty work, draw Iran into attacking US ships in the Persian Gulf in retaliation and then, voila, the war will be merely an act of self defence. Will this actually be what happens? I have no idea, of course, and perhaps neither do the USA and Israel. But what is certain is that by Panetta publicly hand-wringing over Israel's plans to attack Iran he is setting the stage for this scenario and trying to increase the pressure on Iran - on top of the sanctions regime and the covert war against Iranian scientists and other elements of the nuclear program.

Panetta's hand-wringing is, transparently, a threat, nothing more or less.

Is Israel preparing to attack Iran? - The Washington Post:

'via Blog this'

Friday, February 3, 2012

Every Revolution Has Its Road

I was reading about the terrible, terrible tragedy in Egypt last night and today - 74 dead at a soccer match - and the ensuing mass protests and national explosion of anger. And I was struck by how the battle is unfolding in Egypt, the way that the military dictatorship maneuvers and shifts as it tries to undermine the revolution. Even more, I was impressed at how spectacularly and immediately this brutal ruse, this strategy of tension meant to make the people wish for the return of the recently lifted emergency laws, failed completely. There can be hardly anyone in Egypt who doesn't believe that this was a deliberate policy meant to punish the Ultras, who are widely seen as key element of the fighting forces of the revolution.

The massacre of the Al Ahly Ultras took place on the anniversary of the Battle of the Camel, which was an example of this same strategy in play but during the days prior to the overthrow of Mubarak. As the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt noted in a leaflet released immediately following this week's massacre, this was a warning and a reminder from the military that they can still mobilize killers, just as they did during that battle. Of course, the military lost the Battle of the Camela and their thugs were routed. This time the Ultras were trapped inside a stadium, separated from the mass of revolutionaries amongst whom they have played such a prominent role. The Ultras could be punished for their high profile defence of the revolution and uncompromising opposition to the military junta.

Of course, it is already clear that this attack on the revolution has blown up in the faces of the military as tens of thousands have mobilized and attacked the hated Ministry of the Interior in Cairo and more symbols of the military throughout Egypt. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, held in such high esteem in the days following the fall of Mubarak, has by now almost completely used up its prestige amongst the Egyptian people. Their tactics, tested and tried over years and years of dictatorship are outdated and transparent now that the Egyptian people are mobilized and thinking critically about who and how their nation will be governed. The old ways no longer work. And that's a good thing.

But this event also made me think about how every revolution is an interaction of the general and the specific. The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin wrote that a revolution occurs when the ruling class is split and can no longer rule in the old way and the oppressed and exploited will no longer accept being ruled in the old way. That is a general rule that has a certain obvious - but worth stating - truth to it. However, the way that it unfolds is specific to every revolution, rooted in the particular historical experience of each nation, region and so on.

So, we see with Egypt there was a long period of gestation for the revolution, ten years or more, in which the forces and ideological groundwork was laid for the revolution by the movement in solidarity with the Second Palestinian Intifada and the movement against the war in Iraq in 2003. This anti-imperialist ferment found its counterpart in the growing resistance to capitalist austerity inside of the workplaces, with growing strike waves and the first hint of unions independent of those controlled by the state. And, finally, the meeting point of these two oppositional movements occurred in the democracy movement, typified by the Kefaya (Enough) movement in the first decade of this century. This long gestation meant that the ground work was laid at both ends of the class spectrum - at the top there was a sense that the dictatorship was stifling capitalist development and creating instability. At the bottom there was a growing sense of confidence that the regime could be taken on and even that concessions could be won.

In Syria, on the other hand, that process of "gestation" only really began a year ago with the first protests against Assad's regime. Of course there have been struggles and uprisings in the past - most notoriously the uprising in Hama in 1982 that led to a massacre of somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 people. There are opposition movements and parties as well. But the brutal suppression in Hama led to decades of quiet relative to Egypt where there was no comparable massacre (though there was certainly repression, torture and even extra-judicial killings). There is also an important component that is a side effect of the pressure of imperialism and Zionism on Syria. Syria is a "pariah state", which doesn't tell us anything about its character - democratic, liberal, or authoritarian - only that it doesn't bend its knee with suitable rapidity to American whims and Israeli bullying. That pressure - just as in Cuba, Iran or other countries that have historically resisted US imperialism - creates pressure for a "union of necessity" amongst progressive and nationalist forces. The present movement has to therefore achieve the first condition of Lenin's formula - the undermining of the unity of the ruling class - as well as uniting the broadest section of the population against the dictatorship of Assad, undermining the idea of there being any union of necessity with the Assad regime in order to resist imperialism. It seems that this is beginning to take place and even to gather steam as the incredibly brave Syrian people continue to broaden and deepen their revolution in the face of regime brutality. It is likely, then, that when Assad finally goes out the revolution will begin in an entirely different place, with much deeper networks of revolutionary mobilization than in Egypt (though the exact character of those networks, their connection to the workplaces, their political program for the democratic development of the nation, etc. remains to be seen).

There is a further sense in which the revolution in each country - following certain general principles, such as the important role of the working class in order for the revolution to achieve its goals - has a specificity. Every revolution has key turning points, key battles. These are moments of contingency and even historical accident. A religious or cultural celebration can become for reasons that are hard to fathom - certainly from the outside - focal points for advances and retreats of the revolution. In Egypt the anniversary of the revolution marked a huge re-awakening of the revolutionary forces as people took stock of where they were after a year of the revolutionary process and decided that they weren't far enough. And the elections, which in other revolutions without the depth of the Egyptian, have been the moment of the eclipsing of popular mobilization and its shift to the realm of "professional" politics, in Egypt became instead a test of the depth of the revolution's transformation of the country. Rather than accepting the parliamentary terms of debate, the opening of parliament became an opportunity to raise the demands of the revolution and insist that the elected representative implement it. It also increased the pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood to pick sides in the revolutionary struggle, leading to further fragmentation as the leadership tries to dampen expectations without being seen as total sell-outs (which is the growing perception).

This present massacre and battle is another example of a contingent specificity. It requires the particular popularity of football that exists in Egypt, along with the existence of a politicized fan base, in the form of the Ultras, et al. The choice by the military leadership to pursue a big defeat against the Ultras and the response of the broader masses to that massacre is specific. I am no fan of sports and, in general, I think that most spectator sports plays a reactionary role, instilling notions of thuggish competition with opposing teams and cultivating notions of imaginary unity between classes over trivial commonalities, such as place of residence. But that role is frequently challenged and undermined by the masses themselves, such as with the Ultras, or even in Canada, with the Richard Riot of 1955 by Montreal Canadiens fans, which was an expression of the growing demand by francophone Quebecoises for their national and linguistic rights. It was, in many ways, a prelude to the Quiet Revolution of the early 60s and, later, the rise of the PQ and the explosion of strikes and radicalization in Quebec.

These sorts of contingencies and "accidents" are one of the reasons why revolutions and rising class conflict are hard for rulers to manage. Once the pandora's box of struggle has been opened, it often takes many years to put it back, requiring a series of battles, none of which will be decisive but each of which could reverse all of the gains of the ruling class. They never know when they will make a fateful misstep and launch the struggle to a higher level - as opposed to creating more passivity and acceptance. It creates a growing sense of "walking on eggshells" that also increase the tension and uncertainty inside the ruling class. When anything can blow up in your face there is inevitably bickering about what to do. And such bickering can increase the confidence of those at the bottom to impose their own solution.

To bring it back to Egypt, the failure of the football massacre to generate a pro-policing response or to cow the Ultras and their allies could easily lead to a further fracturing of the state machinery. Already the state governor in Port Said (where the game and massacre took place) has been forced to resign, along with the head of security and the entire board of the football association. Everyone, even the Muslim Brotherhood see this event as an intentional act of vengeance against the Ultras. If SCAF were intending to test the resolve of the revolutionaries, they have gotten their answer. My guess is that it wasn't the one they were hoping for.
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