Saturday, June 26, 2010

US: Obama’s “Health Care Reform”: Neither Health Care Nor Reform

As many left organizations have already stated,[1] Obama’s so-called “health care reform” bill is totally unsupportable. Sources as mainstream as PBS’s Frontline series[2] have confirmed that Congress passed the bill only after the health insurance industry spent huge amounts of money making absolutely sure that nothing in it would threaten the industry’s obscene profits. The legislation does nothing to guarantee affordable access to actual health care services, or to change the US’s costly, inefficient health care delivery “system.” Instead, its principal effect will be to redirect hundreds of billions of dollars away from individual workers and into the already bulging pockets of private, for-profit health insurance companies.

We will not repeat here all of the details about the bill’s shortcomings that have already been discussed elsewhere.[3] What we want to do is hit the highlights, and then make a few additional points that, in our view, have not been adequately emphasized by other commentators on this issue.

The bill requires people to purchase health insurance, but does not require employers to provide it. Moreover, the bill does nothing to guarantee that the insurance policies which people are able to buy will be affordable, or that copays and deductibles will be low enough to enable people to get access to health care if they need it. The highly touted subsidies for low-income people (which are, in effect, subsidies for the health insurance industry) will be available only to the lowest-income layer of the working poor; everyone else who does not have access to an employer-subsidized group policy will face a choice between buying expensive individual health insurance or paying a penalty.[4]

Even for the people who do receive subsidies, there is no mechanism to ensure that after paying their share of the cost of health insurance, they will have enough money left to pay for deductibles and copays – which the legislation allows insurers to set at whatever level they wish. The requirement that people with pre-existing conditions be allowed to buy health insurance does not ensure that the insurance companies will not cancel such people’s policies, or raise their premiums sky-high, if they start to need expensive care.

One of the bill’s provisions is particularly ironic. It requires insurance companies to allow existing policyholders to purchase coverage for their children until age 26, an additional three years over the previous cutoff. The only reason this was even an issue in the first place is that between the skyrocketing cost of higher education and the high rate of unemployment among youth, more and more young people are being forced to remain economically dependent on their parents after they complete their education. Many recent high school and college graduates cannot find a decent job (or any job at all), and those who do find work are often so heavily burdened with educational debt that they cannot cover all of their living expenses. This aspect of the bill may be helpful to some families – particularly relatively privileged workers whose employers subsidize their family’s health insurance – but they would not need that help if it were not for the decline of the US economy and the attacks on public education and workers’ standard of living. Meanwhile, those whose employers do not provide health insurance subsidies for dependents, and those who do not have health insurance at all, will not be able to take advantage of this provision, even though their young adult children are even more likely to be without health care coverage.

Now for the broader perspective. First, by cementing the private, for-profit health insurance industry firmly into the system, and giving it billions of additional dollars to spend on “campaign contributions” (bribes) and “political advertising” (propaganda), the legislation makes it even less likely that any meaningful change in the private, for-profit nature of the US health care system will be possible in the foreseeable future. Thus, this bill cannot be supported as a first step in the right direction. On the contrary, it virtually guarantees that the health care system in the US will remain one of the most backward in any highly developed country.[5]

Second, given that this bill’s principal beneficiary is the health insurance industry and the other big players in the for-profit health care industry (i.e., hospitals and drug and medical equipment manufacturers), it is important to understand why the Republicans in Congress – who normally (like the Democrats) side with big business and the profit system at every opportunity – nevertheless opposed this bill. Marxists and even “progressives” should have no illusions that the Republicans’ opposition must mean that the bill does something right. Rather, the Republican opposition to the bill was a pure act of political gamesmanship. As the Republicans anticipated, the bill has infuriated and energized the extreme right-wing “Tea Party” political milieu, particularly because of its mandate that everyone purchase health insurance whether or not they need or want it. The Republican opposition to the bill had less to do with the legislation’s actual content than it did with Republican hopes that when the “Tea Party” types go to the polls in 2010 and 2012, they will reward the Republican Party by voting it back into office.

Finally – and here is the only silver lining in the cloud – there is a lesson to be drawn from this experience. The workers and their “progressive” petty bourgeois allies who wanted real health care reform are furious that Obama could not get Congress to pass even minimal reform proposals as the “public option,” and that he was willing to sell out women’s reproductive rights and the rights of immigrants in order to achieve a purely political victory that does nothing to help the people who voted for him. This gives the Marxist left an opportunity to expose the Democrats, to urge workers to break with them and form an independent fighting workers’/labor party. Ultimately, the health care reform debacle pounds more nails into the coffin of workers’ illusions in Obama and the Democratic Party, removing another roadblock to understanding that nothing short of a complete overthrow of the profit system is capable of achieving progressive goals such as universal, meaningful access to health care.

In short, the big bourgeoisie just laid down the law. No health care for the masses. So long as the rule of the capitalists continues, working people will not get adequate quality health care for all. Health care will not be won in the halls of Congress; it will be won only in hard-fought battles at the point of production. This will require mass strikes, coordinated across industries. Instead, our union “leaders” are busy negotiating away our health benefits and those of the new hires, thereby breaking worker solidarity between the young and the old.
True, the system is strangling on its own incompetence, but it needs a little kick over the edge. That kick can only come in the form of the self-organized working class creating new organs of democracy and action – at every job site, in every office, factory, school, and college, and in the community. Workers at the point of production organized can stop capitalism in its tracks, reorganize the economy and provide quality health care for all. We need strikes for health care. They may start as economic strikes demanding better working conditions for nurses or decent benefit packages for industrial and service workers, but they will only win when they become both generalized and political, embracing demands such as:
  • Free, high quality, lifetime health care for all, including all immigrants regardless of status!
  • Free abortion and birth control on demand for women of all ages!
  • Health care is a human right, not a profit center! Abolish the health insurance industry!
  • Nationalize the health care delivery system under workers’ control!
  • Break from the Democrats and build a fighting workers’ party!

[1] For example:
[2] “Obama’s Deal,” aired April 13, 2010:
[3] For example:
[4] Associated Press (via CBS News), April 22, 2010:
[5] In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the United States health care system as number 37 in overall health system performance:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Auckland Supercity fight is class war

John Banks, prospective NACT- backed candidate for mayor of Auckland Supercity with his NACT mate, Prime Minister, bankster John Key.

NACT government forcing workers to pay for their big profits

The NACTs [National Party and ACT party - with Maori party in tow] are using the election for the Supercity Council as a test bed for their agenda to make the workers pay for their crisis in the 2011 General Election. The new unified Supercity will have around half the population in NZ so it is the dynamo around which the whole country spins. The bosses want to win over Auckland as a step to winning over the whole country to their new right 'austerity' agenda.

This so-called 'austerity' means that workers suffer a cut in their living standards so that the bosses can improve theirs. It is a gigantic redistribution of income from poor to rich on top of the fact that workers ultimately create all of the nation's wealth.

The global capitalist crisis has hit the profits of the business class hard, and the capitalists want workers to bail them out by working harder in worse conditions. Not only does their system fail as the big banks go bust but they prove that they also control the state in forcing the state bailouts to rescue big business. All of this puts the cost of the bosses' crisis on to the backs of workers for as long as they are prepared to put up with it.

The NACT Government  has already introduced a number of austerity measures including cuts in employer contribution to Kiwisaver, introduction of legal temporary work, keeping the minimum wage and wages in general below the rate of inflation, tax cuts to the rich and GST (consumption tax) rises for the poor etc. Accompanying the tax cuts for the bosses is cuts in funding for the welfare state including caps on health and education spending. This will turn public health and public education into the private perks of the rich. This will mean a cut in living standards to most workers and a further widening of the income gap.

Privatising social welfare

The NACTs plan to go down to the next level such as cutting benefits and driving beneficiaries into shitty jobs to force down wages further. Invalids will be redefined as sick or preferably workshy and work tested to force them to take these shitty jobs. Solo parents will have to look for part-time work when their youngest child reaches the age of six years.

The Minister of Social Development has said she wants to privatise welfare by making workers set up their own social insurance schemes. She says that work is good for beneficiaries health.  Perhaps she has rediscovered that work makes you free. She has created a task force to cut welfare which includes rightwingnuts and private contractors to welfare services. We can see where this is headed with the funding of Whanau Ora to farm out welfare services for Maori to private contractors, and the $5 million contracted to the Pacific Economic Development Agency run by National Party cronies.

This will kill two birds with one stone, getting people to work for less pay and less benefits, and creating new profits for NACTs contract provider mates. Cuts in social welfare will mean workers facing poverty and misery and increased sickness as spending cuts in health services leading to early deaths and less of a drain on the bosses' profits. Health Boards are already closing important services like youth psychiatric care to balance their budgets, and those denied access to ACC couselling for sexual abuse are driven to suicide.

All of this is 'austerity' to balance the budget is dressed up as the fight against welfare 'dependency' and dole bludging. The working class is being divided into a supposed 'undeserving underclass' that lives off the taxes of hard working 'deserving' kiwis. The bosses hope that if we fight among ourselves to scramble out of the junk heap we will not notice that they are real welfare dependents.

Bosses the biggest bludgers

If we look harder we don't see an 'underclass' living it up on its welfare 'entitlements', we see an 'overclass' living it up on its 'entitlement' to expenses and profits in blind trusts flowing from NACT policies. What is more all of business profits come from the labour of the working class in the first place. This fact never seems to enter into the bosses calculations because to admit it would be to identify themselves are the real bludgers on the nation.

This is what this charade about the underclass is all about. It tries to hide the fact that the corporate welfare cheats are laughing all the way to the bank with their millions. John Key the NZ Prime Minister is a classic case. A multimillionaire from illgained earnings from currency speculation. An investor in dairying, winemaking, mining, property development, and formerly Tranz Rail. He and his business mates run the NACTs in the interest of making more profits from public asset grabs and insider trading. Meanwhile the sideshow of Benie bashing is designed to force them into shitty work to lower labour costs and encourage profitable investment in 'new jobs' and 'economic growth' in the 'national interest' of the NACTs.

In what 'national interest' you might ask? Well there's plenty of scope. Just ask the NACT PM and cabinet ministers who all seem to have blind trusts in potential pots of gold in them there Conservation estates, Canterbury water, agriculture and horticulture, not to mention property deals and ministerial expense rorts. For example, Key, Creech, Carter and the like all have interests in Canterbury dairying and are like a new squatter class grabbing water rights and polluting the drinking water of Canterbury workers, while PM Key fatuously brags about his JK brand of wine.

Push to Privatise

Like the NACTs abolition of the democratically elected Canterbury Regional Council to allow the thousands of dairy farmers to squat on scarce water rights, the new Auckland Supercity will open the way to grab its public resources and distribute them to the parasitic cabinet ministers and their mates in big business and property development.

NACTs plans to privatise the remaining state assets in this country, starting with Auckland assets, all $28 Billion of water, transport, port, Airport etc that remain in public hands. While the NACTs claim to be putting off privatisation until a second term after the 2011 election, they are already signing up private corporations to run Auckland water for 35 years and talking of private sharholding in Kiwi Bank and SEOs like Energy.

They say this will allow the 'mums and dads' to invest in public assets and so put demands on the management to be more efficient and so make more profits in order to pay good dividends. The same thinking underlies the deal on the Foreshore and Seabed that will allow Iwi Corporations to launch business ventures in the name of 'customary ownership'. The NACTS say this has just got to be good for NZ. Well, yes, NZ Inc owned and controlled by big business.

But in reality opening up shares in SEOs or contracting out provision of state funded services is just the Trojan horse approach to a wholesale sell-off of public assets to international bankers and pension funds or Multinational providers who already own and control most of the former public assets.

Unlike Rogernomics of the 1980s and 1990s however, when the working class was caught out by a Labour Government rushing through a massive privatisation agenda, this time round workers are less gullible. The NACTs arrogance in openly ripping off these assets has already drawn big protests over the theft of Auckland, mining and water rights.

Working people must mobilise and dump NACT

Working people have to put up a huge fight to stop NACT from winning the Supercity and easing their way to a 2011 election victory. But to do this we have to know what is at stake and why a class war is the only solution.

Its easy to see how the NACTs are lining up to grab Auckland. John Banks heads a list of rightwing NACT candidates for the new Council. The left is as yet not putting up a serious fight. Len Brown has come out in opposition to the sale of public assets but only because there has been no referendum on the sales. But even this poses a threat to a NACT victory, so the dirty tricks brigade is in full swing to destroy Len Brown. That is not helped by Len Brown's naivety and his weak campaign organisers.

Brown's campaign is pissweak. The polls since the 1980s have shown that the majority of NZers, most of whom work for a living, do not want further asset sales. In fact they opposed the earlier sales and would probably favour re-nationalisation. The polls also show that a majority are angry at the theft of Auckland.

Brown needs to have the courage to stand on this popular discontent over assets and the huge resentment that the NACTs are taking over Auckland in an anti-democratic coup.

Unfortunately Brown's weakness is a reflection of the compromised Labour Party that got defeated at the last election because it had forgotten its South and West Auckland working class heartland. They didnt vote for Key, they stayed home.

Working class campaign to win the Supercity

Brown will not win the Supercity unless the working class fighters in the Labour ranks, in particular the unions,  take over the campaign and rally these working class stalwarts behind a fighting campaign for democracy and public ownership and control of Auckland assets.

The working class majority in Auckland need to rally around a strong left campaign to defeat the NACTs and the profiteers and banksters who run this  government.

They need a working class agenda. Not only opposition to all public asset sales, but the return of all privatised assets to public ownership. The private multinational hucksters like Infratil, Veolia, etc etc need to be thrown out, and transport, energy, roading, water, etc all put under a new Regional Council to which the Community Committees elect their representatives.

These local representatives would would be elected to act on strict mandates from their voters and be thrown out if they vote against their mandates, so that the working class majority in Auckland would control the running of the city.

A victory for the working class in Auckland would provide a big boost to democracy and a platform for a strong campaign behind a revived Labour Party that openly stands for the interests of the working class.

Failing a victory in Auckland, the task of defeating the NACTs will be that much more difficult, but at least a layer of political fighters will be already mobilised to take on the NACTs and their ruling class backers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some thoughts on Foxconn and the Honda strike

We reprint a very informative blog article from China Study Group blog on current labor unrest in China. We do not share the author's characterisation of China as a form of market socialism as it fails to recognise the rise of China as an imperialist power. 
by Lang Yan | 9 June 2010 | No Comment | Last modified: 9 Jun 2:05 pm
While I was walking around the Shanghai World Expo on a weekday a couple of weeks ago I met a group of workers from a nearby clothing sweat shop. Their company had sent them to the Expo for the day (for which they had to trade their only day off, Sunday). They were too tired to enjoy the Expo as they worked 14 hours a day, six days a week. While this may seem like a nice gesture on the part of the company, the workers also explained that the company was moving much of their production to another building that week, because a worker burned much of the factory down after not being paid on time. I heard this story just as the news of the Foxconn suicides began to break into the media and shortly after that the Honda strike began.
Within public discussion, the Honda wildcat strike has transformed the meaning of the Foxconn suicides. Early interpretations of the Foxconn suicides tended to argue that the suicides should either be understood as individual psychological issues and as copycat suicides, on the one hand, or a result of the particularly brutal and alienating conditions at Foxconn, on the other. Some marshaled statistics to show that there were no more suicides at Foxconn than the social average when one considers the size of Foxconn (for example, see Tom Holland “Why there’s less to the suicides at Foxconn than meets the eye” and Michael R. Phillips “Foxconn and China’s Suicide Puzzle Workers: may not be taking their own lives for the reasons everyone thinks”). Statistics average out, in other words, the social difference of the militarized factory space; Foxconn was treated as a normal social space, a city. (For a discussion of suicide rates and Foxconn, see EastSouthWestNorth #19. Notable also is that the Chinese rate of suicide for people 15 to 34 is quite high. See Suicide main cause of death in 15 to 34-year-olds.)

Analysis of the social and work conditions at Foxconn also appeared. The particularly militarized and alienating work environment at Foxconn is a result of capital’s relentless drive to lower assembly costs and the Asian subcontracting regime; reform-era China and the CCP have been a willing partner in that effort. Activists and scholars have argued that Foxconn is one of the worst factories in terms of it labor regime, with a very long (usually about 70 hours) work week (since the pay structure means that workers must work a lot of overtime) and a very rapid assembly line. Foxconn was able to become the world’s largest assembly company exactly because of its harsh Taylorist production process, which cuts up the process into highly regimented movements, its ability to intensify labor exploitation and its repressive management style (See this article by Andy Xie for some analysis and background on the Taiwanese management style). There are reports that Foxconn initially responded to the suicides by pushing workers to sign contracts that they would not commit suicide, and stating that their families would not receive compensation if they did. It went so far as to state that suicide harmed Foxconn’s reputation.
But the successful Honda wildcat has changed the discussion. The suicides and the strike are being put into the context of changing labor relations in China, with many now arguing that Chinese labor is at a turning point.
For example, NPR’s Marketplace (Honda, Foxconn workers demand more power) argues that a “labor shortage in China is empowering workers to demand better wages and treatment at their workplaces….” In a discussion of the Honda strike, Reuters notes that “[s]ome other foreign companies have begun to address workers’ discontent over pay and working conditions. Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd for instance plans to raise salaries by about a fifth at its Foxconn International unit, maker of Apple Inc’s iPhone, as it struggles to stop a spate of suicides and quell public anger.” Foxconn has said that it will raise base salaries by 30% now with more raises to come in the near future. Clearly this wasn’t only caused by the suicides, however. Foxconn was planning a salary increase earlier in the year in response to the difficulty hiring workers due to labor shortages.
The Honda strike (workers’ demands included wage increases from about 1,500 yuan (less than $220 US) to about 2,300 yuan ($337 US) for higher paid workers) is likewise getting more press than any other worker action in recent years.
China’s economic stimulus has given large subsidies for car sales, and car manufactures are attempting to rapidly increase production in China. Honda plans to add a third to its Chinese production by 2012. But its integrated production process is vulnerable to strike activity. This is particularly true of transmission plants, which are highly automated and expense to construct. Thus they are usually put in the most stable regions, notes the New York Times. But the stability of the Chinese working class is now in doubt. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“The strike has exposed unexpected vulnerabilities in Honda’s China supply chain. Because of the relative absence of labor unrest in China, Honda makes do with only one source of transmissions there, the Foshan factory that supplies roughly 80% of demand, according to Mr. Fujii. The rest are brought in from Japan. Typically, Honda insists on at least two suppliers of parts, partly to protect against any industrial action that might cripple production.”
While quick to tamp down any political interpretation of the workers’ activity, the New York Times argues that in the beginning the state allowed media coverage of the strike because it wants to push up internal demand. On the other hand, the China Daily (in an article now taken off their website) used the strike to editorialize that the Chinese state needs to do more to raise the wages of workers. Since the end of the strike, Chinese media coverage has continued while broadening its analysis. At the same time, the government seems to be increasing its efforts at raising the wages and internal consumption. This follows several years of increased investment for rural China, which means there is less pressure for peasants to migrate out for work.
Broader Implications: First question looking forward:
What does this mean in terms of the changing Chinese political economy? A few points: Increasing wages in China could help rebalance the global economy. As their wages increase Chinese workers will be able to spend more (the wage share of GDP fell from 56.5 percent in 1983 to 36.7 percent in 2005). A rise in internal demand will mean a drop in the savings rate in turn forcing a rise in the savings rate in the US. This will likely also mean inflation, which is already a problem with the huge Chinese stimulus, yet inflation is also another way–other than a direct change in the exchange rate–for the Chinese state to rebalance its trade relationship with the US. The power of the export manufacturers in China seems to have been able to keep the state from changing the exchange rate to any great extent, but inflation might help take care of this for the state. Of course inflation will eat into wage increases and possibly lead to more social unrest. Meanwhile, the Beijing government announced on June 3rd that it was raising the minimum wage by 20% in response to inflation–the past few years it was raised about 10% per year. Other regions are following suit.
The June 7th issue of The Economic Observer (Jingji guancha bao) has articles on the labor situation noting that both the Honda strike and the situation at Foxconn are symptoms of a broader change going on in the Chinese labor market. One article argues that China has reached the “Lewisian turning point”. Arthur Lewis argued in 1954 that, for a period of time, developing countries could rely on rural surplus labor to keep wages from rising. This would allow them to industrialize without wage inflation. But once rural surplus labor is absorbed by the industrial economy and the labor market unifies wages will begin to increase more rapidly. The influential economist Cai Fang has been predicting this shift for some time, and in 2007 edited a volume on the turning point called “The Coming Lewisian Turning Point and its Policy Implications.”
Arthur Kroeber argued in the March issue of China Economic Quarterly that China’s cheap labor regime was coming to an end and that wage inflation will drive up the consumption share of GDP. In the planning for the 12th Five Year Plan, the CCP itself emphasizes this rebalancing and the important role that raising the wage share of GDP should plays in the process. At the same time, some commentators seem to be taking this argument a bit too far. Andrew Peaple states that “the dynamics of China’s economic development are moving inexorably in favor of the country’s workers.” While this will change the shape of the Chinese economy, its effect on capital will be mixed. Higher wages will mean more consumption, helping many companies as much as it hurts. But the assembly and clothing industry in the Southeast will be hit hard, as those plants are both more easily moved to other, cheaper-wage countries and have thinner profit margins. It is too early to say what this transition (of the Chinese economy and of the Chinese labor process) might mean more globally.
A second question looking forward:
Does the Honda strike indicate increasing self-activity of the working class in China? Certainly the example of the success of workers in the Honda strike in winning some wage increases (initially about 24% but in the end much more) might spread to other workers in China. Also, the strike itself was very highly organized, leading to the participation of about 1,900 workers (including a large number of low-paid interns). The workers seemed split, however, when gave in to a lower wage increase than initially demanded. The People’s Daily reports that the hold out group was involved in a confrontation with representatives of the state union, the ACFTU. (The local ACFTU seems to be playing a more conservative role–by protecting Honda–than even the state-run media.) The World Socialist Website details the attempts by the company to split the workers by putting pressure on the interns to sign no-strike pledges in return for smaller wage increases. According to The China Daily, the strikers also demanded changes in work conditions, more transparency in company finances (this seems like a reflection of the history of worker democratic involvement in enterprise management in China), and a change in union representatives. The New York Times points out that workers complained that Japanese employees at the Honda plant make about 50 times that of Chinese workers. It is likely that nationalism has also played a role in how this strike has been reported in China. Most of the workers held out, however, and the agreement reached will lead to high wage increases. Kroeber talking Reuters stated that “Foreign investors have been lulled into a false sense of security that China has a docile work force. There’s nothing intrinsically docile about the Chinese labor force. There was a period when everything was kind of fine; now we are entering a period of more constraint.” Following the Honda strike, workers at a Hyundai factory near Beijing went on strike, but returned to work after they were immediately promised wage increases. Over 5,000 textile workers in Pingdingshan, Henan have been out on strike since May 14th at a factory privatized in 2006.
As the WSWS notes of the Honda strike:
The strike is a sign of sharpening class tensions in China amid the worsening global economic crisis. While China’s economic growth rate continues to be high, propped up by huge stimulus spending, the gulf between rich and poor is widening. Last year there were 98,568 labour disputes filed in Chinese courts, up 59 percent on the previous year. Most disputes, however, were not reported.
It remains to be seen, however, how successful the CCP’s attempt at economic transition will be. We need to know how much of China’s growth and job creation is due to the stimulus and how sustainable it is. The unsustainable property market is creating an investment bubble. Just as likely as transition to a consumer-based economy, inflation could lead to stagflation once the property bubble bursts and the initial affects of the stimulus wear off. The real question is what then for the activity of the Chinese workers. They are clearly learning important lessons now. The fundamental question is whether their new found strength will lead to a break from the domination of capitalist accumulation or not.

Reprinted from China Study Group blog 

Monday, June 07, 2010

Israel is not a nation with the right to self-determination

The outrage of world public opinion towards the IDF attack on the peace flotilla has once again focussed on the extreme behaviour of the colonial settler state of Israel, labelling it a 'rogue' state, or a 'fascist' state. The problem with this reaction is in the assumption that Israel can be a normal, even a democratic state with national rights. Yet Israel's very existence originated in a colonial war against the Palestinian occupants followed by other wars to consolidate and expand its occupation to almost the whole of Palestine. It is a colonial settler state imposed by imperialism with no national rights in Palestine.

Israel cannot be 'democratic' or 'fascist'

The Zionist state of Israel claims to be the only 'democracy' in the Middle East. That is like saying the Greeks discovered democracy by excluding the slave majority. Israel conquered, occupies and defends its stolen territory as a settler colony backed by British, US imperialism and a number of other states. Israeli 'democracy' is reserved for the Zionist settler elite and not extended to non-elite Jews, let alone Palestinians living under the Zionist occupation.

Thus the colonial settler state of Israel has never been a democracy in the bourgeois sense of the word in which all citizens are granted formal political equality - despite actual class inequalities. In Israel the citizen-occupiers are a Jewish elite made up of a bourgeoise, petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy who accept the right of the Zionist state to exist in occupied Palestine. Such a setter colony founded by force and defended by an armed garrison has no need of democracy, nor fascism. It has always suppressed, imprisoned, banished or killed any  opposition to its Zionist plans. Fascism understood correctly, is an extreme reaction of the capitalist ruling class to mobilise the middle class to bypass parliament to take direct action against working class revolution. Only if workers who live in the ocupied territory joined the Palestinian struggle would the Israeli state be forced to adopt a fascist regime. And at that point these workers would be fighting for socialism not a fictional Zionist 'democracy'.

So if you say that Israel is 'fascist' then you create a false picture of the Israeli state. You accept implicitly that Israel must exist as a nation, and that it can be a 'democracy'. The bourgeois human rights organisations and pacifist left accept this and want us to put moral pressure on Israel to return to the British imperialist dictated UN Partition plan of 1947 for two states, or to agree to a single 'democratic' state of two peoples. But this is a reactionary utopia, or dystopia, because the very existence of the Zionist colony state of Israeli requires an armed settler regime that cannot allow 'democracy' for its non-citizens inside Israel, let alone the majority of Palestinians behind the wall in the West Bank and Gaza.

Left in the hands of the Zionists

Calling the colonial settler state of Israel a 'rogue' state or even a 'fascist' state plays directly into the hands of the Zionists because they know that behind these charges is the acceptance of the right of the Israeli state to exist as a nation state. It means that the fight for Palestinian self-determination must not be at the expense of right of the colonial settlers to self-determination. So when the state of Israel tries to justify its barbarity as defence of its right to exist as a nation, people judge it only as "disproportionate". This acceptance of what is a Zionist doctrine is a fatal weakness in the workers movement particularly in the imperialist countries. It means that any struggle to defend the Palestinians is subordinated to the Zionist position that the state of Israel has the right to exist as a national state.

The colonial settler state's right to exist as a national state is deeply entrenched in most of the so-called revolutionary left. Here we have a left wing Zionism masquerading as Marxism. The Marxism of Lenin and Trotsky is abandoned with mealy mouthed phrases. Lenin always recognised the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. He supported that right when it became a popular demand in order to demonstrate that only a workers revolution could win independence from the oppressor nation. Trotsky when facing the Jewish Question accepted that Jews had the right as a people to self-determination. But he and the Fourth international rejected the Zionist claim that Israel could be the Jewish homeland at the expense of occupying and oppressing the Palestinians.  Israel was an oppressor state that was a travesty of the right of Jews to self-determination.

Fake Trotskyists lie about the national question

Fake Trotskyist groups like the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT- part of the Spartacist 'family') abandon Marxism on the national question in Palestine. They say that both the oppressor nation Israel, and oppressed nation Palestine, have national rights. However, not until the oppressor state Israel stops its repression will the IBT support its national rights. This cannot happen without a socialist revolution and the formation of a bi-national workers state. The way to get there is to win over Jewish workers by recognising that they too have national rights in Palestine.(See Defend the Palestinians). Once this socialist utopia is realised both nationalities can then freely determine how to exercise their national rights including the right to separate into a Jewish socialist republic.

But first, allowing that the colonial settler state is an oppressor nation concedes its national right to self-determination. For the IBT this puts a condition on the Palestinian fight for independence. The Palestinians cannot "push the Israeli's into the sea". They must recognise that Jews have a right to self-determination in Palestine, even though the current oppressive Zionist 'nation' of Israel is the result of what Trotsky called a "tragic mockery" of the Jewish Question. For Trotsky the Jewish Question in the epoch of imperialism cannot be solved short of world socialism. Any attempt to build a Zionist state would create a political barrier to unity between Palestinian and Jewish workers bigger than any border. Far from being a road to Jewish/Palestinian working class unity, asserting Jewish national rights in Palestine today projects that border into a future socialist society instead of leaving this question open for future generations to decide.

Second, even if Israel were an oppressor nation, it cannot make its right to self-determination a condition of support for the Palestinian right to self-determination. This is the complete opposite of the revolutionary Marxist position of Lenin and Trotsky. Workers in the oppressor state must abandon any national claim to self-determination on the basis of the oppression of another country. Jewish workers enticed to the Zionist state for work and in the belief that Israel is the "promised land" are living in a reactionary utopia. No country can be free or claim any national rights while it oppresses another.

Therefore the workers in the oppressor Zionist state must unconditionally recognise the right to self-determination of the oppressed Palestinian people. This is the only way to prove that workers who live in the Zionist state have renounced that oppression and can be trusted as class allies of the Palestinian masses. It follows that workers in the colonial settler state must reject the Zionist claim to any Jewish national rights in Palestine even in a future socialist Palestine. Only then can there be working class unity to fight for Palestinian self-determination. Only then can the self-determination of Jews be freely decided in a future socialist republic within a united socialist states of the Middle East and the World.

The BDS campaign and victory over apartheid

The main propaganda task for revolutionaries today is to win workers internationally from the Zionist position that the colonial settler state of Israel has the right to exist. This means challenging the assumption of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), the reformist consumer boycott that tries to pressure the 'rogue' or 'fascist' regime to the left to adopt international human rights standards and 'democracy'. The fact is that such standards do not exist in any of the Western imperialist powers all of which ignore them in their own semi-colonial oppression and refuse to enforce them on Israel. The US is openly two-faced in relation to Israel, talking about restraint, but all the time arming and financing Israel's military adventures. It is a bourgeois liberal delusion to imagine that US imperialism will voluntarily abandon its armed gendarme in the Middle East as its ally in its imperialist war on Terror.

That is exactly why the more radical wing of liberal pacifism has embarked on aid convoys and flotillas. They are frustrated by the inaction of their hypocritical imperialist governments. But direct action of this sort is still pacifist and designed to put popular pressure on Israel on the model of the boycotts against apartheid South Africa. That's why the BDS is endorsed by Bishop Tutu and the SACP who think that boycotts helped to end apartheid and brought 'democracy' to that country. It is a nice story because it reinforces the myth that democratic change can result from peaceful mass protests. Yet despite the end of the race-based apartheid in South Africa,  the multi-racial and multi-class ANC serves as the agent of finance capitalism and that country remains an oppressed semi-colony of imperialism with massive and atagonistic class differences. A model reactionary utopia indeed.

For a Single, Secular, Socialist Palestine
  • Reject the right of Israel to exist in Palestine. Jews as a people have a right to national self-determination, but not in Palestine now or in the immediate future. In a Secular, Socialist Palestine, Jewish cultural, religious and ethnic rights will be protected.
  • We call on Israeli workers to join the Palestinian liberation struggle; break from Histadrut, join the Palestinian unions and fight for equal rights for all workers; refuse conscription into the IDF, or otherwise refuse to follow orders in repressing Palestinians; disarm Israel's nuclear weapons. 
  • Fight for the right of return to the whole of Palestine from the river to the sea.
  • For Palestinian workers to hold their own national assembly for a United, Free, Secular Palestine from the River to the Sea; for the formation of a revolutionary Marxist party based on the workers with a program for a Socialist Palestine and Socialist Middle East.
  • For Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanise, Syrian, Iraqi, Kurd, Turk and other workers to form military fronts with the Palestinian resistance to break down Israel's borders and end the blockades of Gaza and West Bank. Egyptian workers keep the gate to Gaza open!
  • Take strike action against their reactionary bourgeois regimes, form workers councils and militias and create workers' governments.Build international brigades to defend and patrol Palestine waters: keep the Zionists off the sea!
  • For the workers of the imperialist countries and all those who trade with Israel to take strike action to halt all trade in military, finance and industrial goods and services. Break with the labour bureaucracy and build workers' councils, workers' militias and workers' governments.
  • For the rank and file in the US and NATO military forces to refuse to fight the War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Africa. Form rank and file militias in support of workers' governments.
 For a Socialist Republic of Palestine within a Socialist United States of the Middle East.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Foxconn: Capitalism in a nutshell

Here we have the biggest mass manufacturer of cellphones, ipods and ipads in the world. It tells us most of what we need to know about capitalism. At one end are the MNCs that design and contract out the production of new media hardware such as Apple and HP. Their profit margins are 27% and 9.6% respectively.

At the other end are young Chinese workers many teenagers who normally work 12 (but sometimes 16, 24 or even 34 hour) shifts.

They are paid much less than the lowest paid unskilled worker in the US or Europe - US$132 per month according to Bloomberg. The workers are no more than cogs in a massive machine and do dehumanised, repetitive work with 10 minute breaks every 2 hours. 10 have committed suicide this year already many more have died from overwork or suspicious circumstances in the last few years.

When the scandal of the suicides first came to public attention months ago they were ignored and brushed aside. Now the full scale horror of a spate of suicides has attracted the attention of Steve Jobs CEO of Apple who expressed his concern by stating that Foxconn was no “sweatshop”. Well, a Chinese reporter went undercover to work at Foxconn and is now blogging and Twittering to tell us the real truth.

This tells us all we need to know about Capitalism today. In order to make a profit in selling media hardware devices, the MNCs like Apple, Sony and HP try to get the biggest profit margin they can. This means using cheap, skilled and pliable labor, working long hours for low pay. China is ideal because it has a huge surplus of cheap labour migrating from rural areas to these sweatshops. This brings down the cost of the finished iphone or ipad and increases sales.

But the cost to the workers is a “meaningless” life as one Foxconn worker puts it. Life is not only meaningless because of mindless, repetitive work, actually ‘sweated labor’, but workers have their labor expropriated by Apple or HP in the value of the hardware devices as their capital, so that the workers end up worth no more than the value of their miserable wage. Their value in society is reduced to the value of their labour power (they don’t see the surplus value that becomes their bosses profits) set by the market.

Marx called this exploitative social relation of production between labour and capital one of alienated labor. Capital exists only by ‘alienating’ (i.e. expropriating) the labor of the working class. That's the way the capitalist profit system works.

The worker is alienated from his or her labour, is isolated as a cog in the division of labour and alienated from other workers and society in general. Finally the worker is alienated from himself or herself as socially “worthless”. When the worker ends up in this alienated condition, life becomes “meaningless” and one way these young workers seek to escape this hellish existence is suicide.

Marxists have only one message for Steve Jobs and his class of superexploiters. An Apple a day costs a life today. In order for us to live your profit system must die. We say to all exploited and oppressed workers: kill capitalism, not yourself. Organise, strike, occupy and socialise capitalist property so that it becomes collective property and is used to produce for need and not profit!