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May Day 2015

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Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All the substantial issues confronting the working class today — the rapid growth of social inequality, a tattered veneer of ‘democracy’ behind which ever more rapacious forms of neo-liberal economics rule over peoples and the environment, the explosion of police violence within countries (as in the USA) and of armed conflict between countries and regions — all these are bound up with the struggle against new forms of dominance.

The dangers of war loom more menacing today than they did in 1914 and in 1939. But for many workers in many countries on this May Day in 2015, war has never gone away. It persists because of the division of the world into what are called competing economies (as if ‘country’ and ‘economy’ are synonymous: they are nothing of the kind). On May Day, the subordination of the productive forces of households, families, communities and villages to the corporate and financial elite is protested and revoked.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers' rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers’ rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

The world of work has been reshaped by globalisation. Today, much of global trade involves global buyers and suppliers, which has implications for workers’ welfare. Multinational enterprises source from a network of suppliers, who, in turn, compete with one another to obtain business. The task of providing compensation is therefore left to the supplier of the product or service, who is under considerable pressure with regard to the wages and conditions they can offer workers.

There are no mechanisms within the political system (there are scant differences between political systems installed today, for their methods are so similar) through which any of the grievances of the vast majority of the population can find expression. These democratic demands should be linked to programmes that advances the social rights of the working class. Chief amongst these must be a massive redistribution of wealth, which has been snatched away by what is mockingly called the ‘market’, itself a ghastly amalgam of banks, technocrats, commodity speculators, global finance capital, lobbyists and consultants, the multi-lateral lending organisations (like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), and all their cronies and cabals fostered by politicians.

Technological advancements and the expansion of the internet have caused temporal and physical distances to vanish. They have accelerated sweeping and damaging changes in the organisation of production and work. There has been a growth in the number of hours that enterprises operate (24 by 7 has become a household term) and therefore in the times when workers at all levels of service and production must be available to work. If they are not they are summarily sacked, fired, dismissed.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Since the 1980s, but especially in the 2010s, under the pressures of ‘competition’ but in fact as a strategy to create an ever-greater pool of consumers who are otherwise disenfranchised, companies and corporations run by the financial puppeteers have demanded greater flexibility in production and organisation. This has abandoned the traditional employment relationship which, for all its faults, has been one that has survived the Modern Era. It was the basis for labour protection measures. No longer. Non-standard employment arrangements have become common features in what are now cynically called labour markets, no matter where they are – Argentina, Micronesia, Scandinavia, sub-Saharan Africa. Work has become unstable and frighteningly insecure for families. Work has in fact been deliberately caused to become chronically unpredictable.

A concerted assault on the domination of our societies by this putrid but dangerous financial aristocracy is needed. For this enemy is determined to maintain its stranglehold through violence and through the punishment of poverty. This grip over our economic and political lives must be broken, for only when our societies are based on public ownership and democratic control of the forces of production and the means with which to safeguard ecology, natural resources and cultural values can genuine ‘development’ (a grossly abused term) take place.

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US Census poverty data: more poor today than 50 years ago

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Outside a community centre, Los Angeles

Outside a community centre, Los Angeles

A finding of great importance was released this week, of the number of people living in poverty in the United States of America (USA). The data was released by the US Census Bureau, which is carrying out the 2010 census of the USA.

The message is a stark indicator of the acute ill-health of the current global economic system and needs to be treated as such. The number of people living in poverty in the USA rose to 43.6 million in 2009 – this is the largest number since the agency began making such estimates 50 years ago and represents an increase of 3.8 million compared to 2008. As of last year, one in every seven Americans was poor, according to the government’s definition of poverty. The official poverty rate of 14.3% is the highest since 1994.

Handicapped man begging at a traffic light, Los Angeles

Handicapped man begging at a traffic light, Los Angeles

The poverty rate jumped more than a full percentage point, from 13.2% in 2008. There were 8.8 million families living in poverty in 2009, including one child in every five. This is the same rate of child poverty that existed nearly five decades ago, when President Lyndon Johnson announced his “War on Poverty”. With this data, the government of the USA is advised to cease and call off all the other wars it is waging and renew the war on poverty within its own boundaries.

Reflecting the impact of the economic slump and mass layoffs and wage-cutting, the increase in poverty was concentrated among working-age adults and their children – the poverty rate for working-age adults rose from 11.9% to 12.7% percent, for children the poverty rate rose from 19.4% to 20.7%, and the poverty rate for those 65 and older fell from 9.7% to 8.9%.

The new figures on poverty in the USA have powerfully shown that what passes for contemporary economic theory, such as the efficient markets hypothesis, has nothing whatsoever to do with human development. The ‘efficiency’ of markets are a direct expression of the needs of finance capital which has assumed such a powerful role in the world economy over the past three decades.

Food stamps in USAWhy has such devious and destructive theory been turned into policy for so long? Because it serves definite financial interests. Because, without such hypotheses and the support given them by the system we call ‘globalisation’, most of the trading and risk models used by major financial institutions would have to be thrown out.. These figures from the USA – amplified a thousand times in the figures from less industrialised countries – show why the system is choking every species on the planet including our own.

For readers from the USA, there is an objective commentary of the new poverty data here. The actual US Census Bureau data, analysis and supporting information is available here.

The Economic Policy Institute commented: “For the first time on record, the nominal (non-inflation adjusted) income of the median, or typical, household actually fell, from $50,303 in 2008 to $49,777 in 2009. Inflation was negative from 2008 to 2009, dropping by 0.4%, so real (inflation-adjusted) income did slightly better. Real median income declined by $335 from $50,112 in 2008 to $49,777 in 2009, a decline of 0.7%. The real median income of working-age households declined even more, falling by $754 from $56,575 to $55,821. African Americans were hit particularly hard in 2009, with the median African American household income dropping by 4.4%.”

The retail price of fuel advertised at a petrol pump (gas station)

The retail price of fuel advertised at a petrol pump (gas station)

The EPI said the 4.7 million drop in the number of earners working full-time, full-year, was “particularly astonishing”. A disproportionate amount of this decline was among men — the number of men working full-time, full-year dropped by 3.8 million, while there was a 900,000 drop in the number of women working full-time, full-year. The job loss and hours reductions of 2009 meant there was a 3.7 million drop in the number of workers with any earnings at all in 2009, and a 1.1 million increase in the number of workers working part-time and/or part-year.

That’s not all, said the Urban Institute. “This 15-year high still understates the dire straits of many Americans today.” The current recession began in December 2007, and the unemployment rate doubled (from 5 to 10%) between December 2007 and December 2009. The Census poverty estimates are based on family income received during the 2009 calendar year. Since the unemployment rate rose during the year, the 2009 poverty rate understates deprivation at the end of the year.