workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Politicians’ insatiable demand for human sacrifice

Writing in the March 8 New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman writes:

We are, in effect, dealing with priests who demand human sacrifices to appease their angry gods — but who actually have no insight whatsoever into what those gods actually want, and are simply projecting their own preferences onto the alleged mind of the market.

This demand for human sacrifice — for cuts to workers’ retirement benefits and to food stamps and other welfare programs, for even stingier healthcare services for those who work for a living, for anything that make life under this capitalist system a little more bearable — is bipartisan. The Obama administration offers cuts to Medicare and food stamps, and has proposed “fixing” the way inflation is to calculated to leave Social Security benefits lagging the actual cost of living even more. The Republicans counter with proposals to subcontract retirement and health benefits to for-profit providers.

Both sides are dogmatic supporters of the market and of capitalism (as is Krugman, who simply recognizes that it needs to be regulated, lest its brutal logic lead to horrors beyond our capacity to absorb); but markets are fundamentally inhuman, and when it comes to things they actually care about not even the right-wing pundits are willing to trust them to the tender mercies of this economic system which produces so much misery for the many — and such lavish wealth for the few.

Guest workers — the bosses can never get enough

Republicans and Democrats alike agree that one of the key components of immigration reform must be an expanded guest worker program, so that the bosses can import their low-paid workers legally, without running afoul of immigration laws. The current program, it seems, is just too restrictive to meet the bosses’ needs.

The Harrisburg PA Patriot News reports that foreign guest workers participating in the State Department’s current J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program were briefly locked out of their company-provided housing after protesting conditions at the three McDonald’s outlets they were brought in to staff. Students pay about $3,000 to participate in the “educational” program, working for four months for the sponsoring program and then having a couple of months to visit the country. Several guest workers were sponsored by the franchise holder for six central Pennsylvania McDonald’s, who put them to work at minimum wage, sometimes scheduling them for as few as four hours in a week, and made them live in the basements of homes he owned (8 to a room, each paid $65 a week). The students came from Argentina, Peru, Chile and Malaysia, according to the Huffington Post.

The National Guestworker Alliance says McDonald’s “hijacked” the student visa program to “access cheap, exploitable labor.” This comes two years after another group of foreign students protested against the giant candy-maker Hershey for bad working conditions and large deductions from their pay. That case was settled after the feds directed Hershey to pay more than $200,000 to students in back pay.

Evidently, it’s difficult enough to get workers to agree to McDonald’s conditions that its franchise operators find it easier to work with the government to bring in workers from abroad — workers whose visas are contingent on staying on the job, and so aren’t free to leave if the situation becomes too abusive.

Evidently it’s a great deal, and the bosses want more. Tens of thousands more, to compensate them for the difficulties they will experience from the decline in the numbers of undocumented workers they can ruthlessly exploit.

The quickest and easiest way to rid ourselves of these abuses would be to rid ourselves of borders. Already, the bosses and “their” (actually our) money travel the world at will, as do our jobs and the products of our labor. (and the pollution and social misery created by this system.) Only workers are controlled by national borders, and anyone who believes the borders are administered in the interests of the working class needs to get a better grade of tea.

The death of Hugo Chavez

El Libertario, our comrades in Venezuela, has released the following statement:

Neither mourning nor celebrating:
time for social struggles to become autonomous!
When an illness becomes serious, when medical attention becomes a vehicle for myopic, politically motivated decisions and when a patient becomes drunk with power, it can only end this way.  The strongman has died, and in so doing, he has initiated a substantial shift in the Venezuelan political landscape.
What used to be the regime’s greatest strength has suddenly turned into its defining weakness:  it was all Chávez, and, without him, the only solution is to fabricate an absolute commitment to his memory and his plans for succession.  The government’s true fragility can now be seen, a government which tried to demonstrate its “popular, socialist” character via a grotesque personality cult, a practice that has now been reduced to the empty invocation of spirits. The deceased himself is to blame for this outcome as the secrecy around his illness was propelled by the same motivations as the extreme centralisation of power around him, while the lack of ideological coherence amongst his followers has left them scrapping for crumbs.  The high-level “rojo-rojito” [chavista red] bureaucrats and the upper echelons of the military are best placed to benefit, as they negotiate impunity for their various misdemeanors and corruptions.
For the right-wing and social democratic opposition, the new situation finds them unable to overcome their losses of the presidential elections of October 7 and the regionals of December 16, offering a  “yuppy populism” which promises voters that they will maintain and fine-tune the clientelist tools of governmental power which were so useful to Chavez.
This accommodation assumes the belief that a fortuitous metastasis has brought them within reach of the power that their greed, mistakes, laziness and incompetence had kept them away from, power they will wield with similar stupidity and greed as the Chavista bolibourgeoisie.
The backdrop to this load of petty opportunism – from both the Gran Polo Patriótico [the Chavista coalition] and the Mesa de Unidad Democrática [the opposition coalition] – is Venezuela, a country that faces its own problems: out of control inflation, rising unemployment and precarious jobs, the devaluation of the currency, shocking personal insecurity, crises in electricity and water provision, education and health systems in decline, a housing shortage, obsolete – or incomplete – public works, a demagogic approach which pays attention to only the most extreme scarcities experienced by the most desperate people… a whole host of other problems which are equally disastrous.
These issues are not the central concern of the two gangs in competition for Miraflores [the President palace/seat] and the oil booty.  Our collective response must be to not relent to their blackmail: support at the ballot box in exchange for ‘solutions’ that either never materialize or are ludicrously inadequate.  Now is the time to overpower the rotten
powers that be and build – from below – a real democracy of equality, social justice and freedom.  We must unleash the generalised anger caused by our suffering, and convert it into autonomous social struggles, self-managed and extensive.  We must spell out for the politicians in power that we don’t need them, neither as intermediaries nor as gracious givers of what we ourselves can construct – united and from the base – without any need for “clean hands” or “red berets.”
EL LIBERTARIO Editorial Collective
ellibertario@nodo50.org   –   @pelibertario