Recall the Wisconsin 8

For those who’ve been following it, the situation in Wisconsin reached a new stage last night, with the “Ash Wednesday Ambush” from Republicans passing a law suspending collective bargaining rights in dubiously legal circumstances.  From Firedoglake:

the Wisconsin State Senate rushed through and passed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The vote in the State Senate, entirely composed of Republicans, was 18-1; only moderate Dale Schultz voted no. The budget repair bill was split at the last minute, cleaving the “non-fiscal” anti-union piece from the fiscal components of the bill. The non-fiscal piece did not require a quorum, so the Senate was able to pass it.

I’m sure the protests in Madison will be huge, and there’s things those of us outside the country (or outside in the US entirely) can do to show support.  Governor Walker is not eligible for recall until January next year, but already efforts are underway to recall the 8 Republicans eligible for it. If you’re in Wisconsin obviously you should visit the staging stations set up for the recall effort, but even if you’re not, please donate to support.  This is looking to be a crucial battle for worker’s rights, so spread, disseminate.

The Wisconsin Democrats have, unlike their national counterparts, shown solidarity with their base and deserve the support.  As E.J Dionne points out at the Washington Post, Washington could learn from Wisconsin.

Lastly, at Global Comment Erik makes the compelling case for a general strike.  Labour in the US has very little to lose at this point, with dodgy laws being passed against the clear will of the people.

Solidarity innit.


Getting Your Class War On: The 99ers

Edrie Irvine: I think the first thing, I don’t know whether it’s unique to the media, but in general, is that there are real people being affected by this. The unemployed have tended to be this sort of silent group of people off to the side, occasionally you see pictures and they’re standing in some long line or applying to jobs, but they’re not thought of as–they’re not thought of, is really what it gets down to. In terms of Congress, idea that they are linking tax cuts for people making millions of dollars a year, which will only deplete the economy, and linking that with emergency benefits for people who are jobless through no fault of their own, and spending the money to give those people these benefits will actually help the economy, is just crazy-making, I think. Congress doesn’t seem to realize that the rich can afford not to have their tax cuts and it won’t change anything for them. It won’t affect their lives. We don’t have that choice.

So here in the good old U.S. of A., we have this new term floating around. We call people “99ers” when they’ve reached 99 weeks of unemployment, and somewhere in our genius, we have decided to CUT OFF benefits for these people. Because they’re just not trying hard enough, right? RIGHT? All those jobs out there…

Sarcasm aside, Congress is too busy blathering on about all sorts of useless crap to vote to extend benefits for the 9.8% of America still unemployed (oh, you know, about 15 MILLION people). Republicans are demanding spending cuts when they’re not also demanding tax cuts and for some reason the only street protests gaining traction in this country are FOR “austerity” as defined as taking it out on poorer, darker-skinned people than those in the protests…

OK, clearly this all makes me pretty angry.

You’d be angry too if you’d spent your workday watching these two lovely women, who’ve worked hard all their bloody lives, discussing calmly and coolly their unemployment benefits running out.

See, the unemployed are getting ORGANIZED. For now it’s not become a “movement” on the scale of the “Tea Party,” probably because the Koch brothers and the Murdoch media don’t actually give a fuck about them. But if you watch these two women talk, maybe you’ll want to get involved…

Connie Kaplan: They’re just in denial, they’re blinded by their greed, they know the reality of their situation. There are 55 people in Congress, I’m not going to name them now, who are millionaires, so there’s sort of a conflict of interest here. They’re fighting for things that affect them personally. They’re not concerned with people like us. I spent–when I used to get unemployment–every single penny was toward paying rent or food. Bills were a luxury. I have to have the internet–can’t get a job without the internet or a cell phone, one of the two.

Laura Flanders: How do you feel being used as a hostage in the party political fighting that’s happening in Washington–we saw a delay in benefits this summer and they eventually came through, people say these will eventually come through, but in the meantime, what happens to somebody whose benefits are in the balance?

Connie Kaplan: To me what happened yesterday with that letter that the Republicans delivered on the floor…

Laura: That they will not even consider it till the tax cuts have been extended…

Connie Kaplan: they’re not going to do anything, they don’t even care about other things, like the START treaty, which is critical for our national safety. These people are using a form of blackmail and I’m a victim.

You can watch the full interview here.

Some links:

Skewed priorities

More on the skewed priorities of the austerity age.  From Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:

The pay freeze for [American] federal workers will raise about $60 billion over 10 years. It’s necessary, the president said, because these are times “where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices.”

Contrast that with the tax cuts for income over $250,000, which benefit workers doing much better than the average federal employee and cost about $700 billion over 10 years.

Yeah, but that’s different.  They’re already loaded.


Student Protests

I was reading Mark Fisher‘s piece on “Kettle Logic” last night, and thinking:

there is surely an unavoidable generational dimension to the current situaiton. Witness Paxman’s patronising treatment of young protesters on Newsnight last week. Transformed from attack dog rentasneer into the kindly, avuncular advocate of capitalist realism, Paxman “explained” to the teenagers that, yes, it’s unfair that he received an education completely gratis and that they will have to pay thirty grand, but sadly, that’s just how things are – there’s no money left. Generational affiliation here is a matter of political decision. I effectively belong to Paxman’s generation in that I too received higher education completely free of charge. But the issue is question is whether one finds it conscionable to stand by while the young systematically denuded of the “privileges” that we took for granted. It’s true that higher education has been massively expanded over the past thirty years, but that isn’t the fault of the young. They are the victims of an ill-thought and poorly planned out experiment in the expansion of the sector which successive governments have pursued on the grounds that the UK would need more graduates in order to be internationally “competitive”. It’s not even as if the young have the alternatives to higher education that once existed. So here they are: the ConDemned, and it’s down to us whether we stand with them or watch them get further sold out and abandoned.

Because student protests seem to have a different tone to them than other forms of “identity”-affiliated protests. As Emily pointed out in chat, people with privilege often construct their identity against the Other in ways that make true solidarity and empathy difficult.

But students? Well, most of us can relate to the young even when we are no longer young. We’ve been kids, idealistic and angry, even when we haven’t been kids in a while. It’s a more porous barrier than race, gender, hell, even class.

So even aside from the visuals like these:

British schoolgirls holding hands around a police van, covered in graffiti. There is resonance to the image of the young people in the streets that transcends the usual lines drawn between the protesters and the rest of us, shrugging “Suck it up” as we walk by. And there’s something about cuts to education–education that used to be free to all, rich or poor–that transcends so many of those lines. It’s a rallying cry. It’s spectacular, and very real.

Wall Street executives back at the trough

From the WSWS:

Annual bonuses rose by 11 percent for executives at the 450 largest US corporations last fiscal year, according to a new survey published by the Wall Street Journal. Overall, median compensation—including salaries, bonuses, stocks, options and other incentives—rose by three percent to $7.3 million in 2009.

The increased payouts were the result of soaring profits at top companies, which doubled from a year earlier, leading to a 29 percent increase in total shareholder returns. This, in turn, was the direct result of the offensive that corporate America has waged against the working class, with the full backing of the Obama administration and both big business parties. Over the course of the last two years companies have slashed payrolls, wages and benefits, replaced full-time workers with temporary and casual workers earning poverty level wages and ratcheted up productivity.

Cost-cutting and streamlining were the principal pursuits of all the CEOs pocketing large pay packages last year. The top five were: (1) Gregory B. Maffei of Liberty Media Corp., who got $87.1 million in compensation last year, four times his 2008 package; (2) Larry Ellison, Oracle’s billionaire founder, who received $68.6 million; (3) Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp., who got $52.2 million; (4) Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, who took in $44.6 million; and (5) Leslie Moonves from CBS, who got $39 million.

With the S&P 500 Index up 7.5 percent so far this year, top executives are expected to see even bigger compensation packages in 2010. “Many companies are beating earnings expectations, stock prices are up and performance is good, so bonuses will be good,” Mark Reilly, a partner with the Chicago-based Compensation Consulting Consortium LLC, told the Journal.

I love a jobless recovery, me.

A Business Plan For Every Human Activity

Great piece by John Pilger in the New Statesman over the weekend.  He argues the utter moral bankruptcy of the recent UK “austerity” cuts and its devastation of the welfare state.

Born of the “never again” spirit of 1945, social democracy has surrendered to an extreme political cult of money worship. This reached its apogee when £1trn of public money was handed unconditionally to corrupt banks by a Labour government whose leader, Gordon Brown, had previously described “financiers” as the nation’s “great example” and his personal “inspiration”.

This is not to say parliamentary politics is meaningless. It has one meaning now: the replacement of democracy with a business plan for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope, every child born. [italics added]

This is the sheer mundanity of neo-liberalism in its quotidian form, the becoming-business of everything from the social sphere to the psyche itself–and the reason why bohemia, the sheer dream of an outside not determined by the capitalistic–is itself vitally necessary.  As Nina Power has pointed out recently, the very idea of higher education has been itself sidelined as a useless pursuit , “predicated on the idea that three years is a very long time, especially doing subjects that are a ‘waste’” [that is, the humanities and social sciences which have been decimated by the Osborne review].  But as Powers rightly notes, the raising of the pension age means 45 years of wage earning, compared to the mere three spent at college or university.  What a waste of time, eh?  But there is no outside to the business rationale in public discourse from which to argue that knowledge (not to mention art and culture) is valuable in and of itself. Yes, even for the plebs not attending the country’s upper echelon of universities.

Yet as the UK struggles to come to terms with this dour new regime of misery, Pilger points out how blatantly untruthful the idea of false scarcity really is:

The theft of £83bn in jobs and services matches almost exactly the amount of tax legally avoided by piratical corporations. Without fanfare, the super-rich have been assured they can dodge up to £40bn in tax payments in the secrecy of Swiss banks. The day this was sewn up, Osborne attacked those who “cheat” the welfare system. He omitted the real amount lost, a minuscule £0.5bn, and that £10.5bn in benefit payments was not claimed at all. Labour is his silent partner.

Welfare cheats are the phantoms of contemporary discourse, the imaginary figure that allow us to focus all of our rage on this rort and not the larger, more damning picture in which it is the rich who caused the crisis who are committing welfare scams on an unheard-of scale – being forgiven their sins, while the rest suffer.  The super-rich have been the stealing of the very possibility of social welfare from the population itself.

And of course, to build on what I was talking about recently here, the language around the attacks on disability benefits suggest that disability is being figured as a form of welfare cheating itself, a burden which the public simply cannot shoulder (unlike the tax dodges of the super-rich).

It is here that the foundations for a collective struggle against the cuts must be found- those who are feeling the pain must band together, because they must.  Because the government has betrayed almost everyone, in the name of supporting a few wealthy and the appalling ideological agenda of the ruling class.

The BA workers, the firefighters, the council workers, the post office workers, the NHS workers, the London Underground staff, the teachers, the lecturers, the students can more than match the French if they are resolute and imaginative, forging, with the wider social justice movement, potentially the greatest popular resistance ever. Look at the web; listen to the public’s support at fire stations. There is no other way now. Direct action. Civil disobedience. Unerring. Read Shelley and do it.

French Strikes in Retrospect

I’m an American student (temporarily) living in France, by complete chance at the time of the (g)rève général(e) strike movement against pension reforms. I got sick of the American media either framing France as a caricature of progressive awesomeness or as a hedonistic people who would never make sense, so I wrote this up. Enjoy.

Those French –they’re at it again, storming the streets at the prospect of working another two years. As if thirty-five hour work weeks, five weeks of paid vacation per year, and hour and a half lunch breaks weren’t enough. Their retirement –the youngest retirement age in the western world, mind you, is about to be lengthened by two years. Naturally they respond by striking and protesting.

They must be a lazy, hedonistic people with an extreme case of the terrible twos. Or maybe they just really like to protest.

In reality, they are neither (actually they are a little bit of both, but that’s not the point). Like most of the world, the French labor force is being asked to make greater and greater sacrifices due to the financial crisis and globalization. As productivity increases with the demand for global competition, wages stagnate to maximize profits. Globalization becomes an addictive bourgeoisie betting game, played by investing as little money as possible while turning increasingly higher profits by treating the working class as their expendable pawns. This results in fewer jobs, greater unemployment, and a general feeling of economic despair.

Enter Nicolas Sarkozy who proceeds to announce that since France can, “no longer afford the current pension system,” it must be reformed so that workers work an extra two years, spending a total of forty-one years in the work force to realize a full pension. It is not acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to work for a solid forty-one years in the current job market. Neither is it acknowledged that in actual labor –labor that most debutante legislators could not dream of doing—working an extra two years legitimately lowers ones life expectancy. The threats of “dying before enjoying retirement” that the American media scoffed at are all too real on several levels.

France can no longer afford the current pension system because it used money intended for the people to pay off debts from globalization gone awry. Naturally the privileged classes take their cue to sit back, light another cigarette, and draft responsibility-evading legislation to have the working classes clean up their excess mess.

France is not the only country that is facing these reforms. However, unlike the rest of the world, France decided to raise Hell in the streets and try to quench the backbone of the economy that the bourgeoisie consistently takes for granted. Unlike so much of the world, France has an understanding of, and disgust for immorality in politics that is too toxic to swallow with a spoonful of cynicism. So this is why the French are carrying signs in the streets that say, “We Aren’t Carla, You Can’t Fuck Us” –not because they are particularly hedonistic, revolutionary, or anti-establishment, but because they are sane.