Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bracero 2.0?

Courtesy of CelticFire
The Economist magazine seems to think that George W Bush can save his place in history by reaching a compromise with the Democrats by pushing through a kinder gentler "guest worker" (sounds nice doesn't it?) program. The elements of such a program would include tighter border security, better tracking through a massive tracking and surveillance system with special ID cards, more tightly linking ("matching") workers with specific employers, preferential treatment for US born workers and green card holders, encouragement for the guests to leave the US, anti-exploitation measures, and of course increased compassion.1

Today the New York Times ran "Low Pay and Broken Promises Greet Guest Workers in U.S." on the front page. Here was described the plight of immigrant farm workers brought into the US to the tune of 120,000 per year to do menial labor in deplorable conditions. They have little or no job security, no income security and absolutely no labor rights (like the 40 hour work week) nor the right to organize in order to protect themselves. It should be noted that native farm workers suffer from the same injustices in many U.S. states, including the progressive New York State.

The article noted that guest workers are abused far more than other workers due to their captive status. Ironically many of these people pay exorbitant fees for the "privilege" to take the jobs where they are abused, not knowing ahead of time what lies in store for them. Labor camps have been sued for fraud, breach of contract, minimum wage violations and illegal human trafficking.2 These types of exploiters used to be called "job sharks" - seems to me that it's high time we revive that term for everyday use (it IS common in India and elsewhere).

So the question is, will an new guest worker program, driven by the demands of the very businesses which are perpetrating these abuses, really help solve anything? For a historical perspective it is useful to examine the "Bracero Program" established in the 1950s, the legacy of which still governs policy today. The Monthly Review ran an article by Richard D. Vogel on the topic last month as follows:
The history of the Bracero Program, an indentured servitude program which allowed for the temporary migration of Mexican agricultural workers to the United States from 1942 to 1964, is important because of its impact on the lives of millions of Mexican workers. In addition, it was the first bilateral agreement regulating migrant labor between the two nations. The Bracero Agreement offers the historical and legal precedent for the program currently being developed for the mass exploitation of Mexican and Central American workers in the United States.
When an economic recession triggered a political backlash against Mexican migrants. Operation Wetback, as it was officially designated, was a paramilitary campaign conducted by the U.S. Border Patrol against Mexican communities across the nation that resulted in the deportation or flight of well over a million migrant workers and their families.
Ultimately, over 4.6 million Mexican citizens entered the United States under the Bracero Agreement, providing an abundant supply of cheap workers for U.S. agriculture as long as it was needed. Though the program provided desperately needed jobs to Mexican workers, the bracero experience was characterized by poverty wages, substandard working conditions, social discrimination, and lack of even the most basic social services for braceros and their families.
Vogel goes on to describe the key elements of the new proposed guest worker program as follows:
The innocuous term, “guest worker,” obscures the true nature of transient servitude. The term “guest” suggests a person to whom hospitality is extended, but this labor program will offer no kindness or generosity to workers caught in the trap. The program will be conducted primarily by private corporations (perhaps exclusively by Halliburton/KBR or one of its subsidiaries) that are only interested in the bottom line of profits for their stockholders and huge salaries and bonuses for their managers and executives, and it will be enforced by the unprecedented power of the U.S. government and guaranteed by the WTO through GATS.

The work offered under the program will be transient in a double sense—the work visas will be temporary and employment will be itinerant because of visa portability. Limited to a maximum of six years of participation and with the prospect of legalization conditional, the program offers workers an uncertain future at best.

A condition of servitude is all but guaranteed during the term of employment because GATS has officially disavowed any responsibility for enforcing international labor law advocated by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which itself has no enforcement provisions. Ironically, workers under the pending U.S. guest worker programs will have less protection than the workers who labored under the Bracero Agreement because of the power of GATS to supercede all national (including labor) law thus nullifying worker rights guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution.

The exploitation of workers under the U.S. guest worker program will, in practice, be virtually unrestricted and participation will be expensive. In addition to the visa and work permit fees required by the U.S. government, workers will have to absorb the commission fees charged by labor contractors and transportation costs (both prohibited under the Bracero Program), and additional charges for medical exams, inoculations, and miscellaneous expenses. In practice, the costs born by migrant laborers under a U.S. guest worker program will greatly reduce the money available for remittances to families in Latin America, one of the primary motivating factors for participating in the program.3
The final ironic twist is that Mexico's puppet president Felipe Calderon today announced that Mexico will be initiating a guest worker program of it's own to control immigration from Central America.4 The program is much more humane than those being proposed within the U.S. but basically it is an implementation of the same template and an extension of neo-liberal economic policies.

A truly effective global paradigm for migrant labor must be put into effect to replace the neo-liberal WTO policies being implemented in the U.S. and Mexico. Universal labor rights for all, regardless of citizenship, is an essential first step. Demilitarization of the borders and decriminalization of work are second and third. Workers must be free to work, migrate and organize just as businesses are free to transcend borders. Incentives to exploit workers must be eliminated and offenders must be prosecuted and punished.

A socialist approach to creating a migrant labor system governed by compassion and justice with the aim to create a better life for all involved on a global scale is the only approach that will have a long lasting and positive effect.

Crisis in Legitimacy

China stock marketThe sky is falling, the sky is falling - or at least the stock market is...

Today we will see whether Wall Street follows the tumble some of the global exchanges, notably Europe and Japan, took today. Notably, Communist China's market posted a 100+ point rebound. This seems to show that socialism is even better at managing stock markets than capitalism (I'm being witty here of course).

It would be too easy to say that the only people affected are the speculative elites. Unfortunately the reality is that many workers in the west have most of their savings tied to equity markets, so a prolonged decline will hurt a lot at a time when we can ill afford it.

Therefore the news that economic ministers in Europe are calling on businesses to share their profits with workers is very encouraging. The Financial Times reports:
European companies must give workers a bigger share of their soaring profit or risk igniting a “crisis in legitimacy” in the continent’s economic model, Germany’s finance minister warned on Tuesday.

Peer Steinbrück’s comments were part of a concerted attempt by Europe’s economic leaders in Brussels to persuade companies to share profit with workers as well as shareholders.1
I applaud these leaders for standing up in the face of business might in an extremely hostile climate and stating the truth - we the workers create the wealth of the world and deserve our rightful share. Of course we should not have to rely on meek government officials to go begging for business to behave in an ethical manner.

The gains of the working class have been fought for and died for by countless nameless agitators and organizers. These heroes of the past must be honored by a new generation who will stand up and demand the wealth they create be given back to them - reversing the current trend.

Other references: 2

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Le Pacte Présedentiel

Segolene Royal
Nearly two weeks after unveiling a solidly left campaign platform, Ségolène Royal the Parti Socialiste (SP) candidate for the presidency of France has pulled ahead in the polls versus the right wing Nicolas Sarkozy.

Royal delivered a dazzling debate performance on national television which bolstered the gains made with her 100 point "le pacte présidential" which included raising pensions, an increase of the minimum wage to €1,500 per month, a job guarantee for every university graduate, and citizens' juries to watch over government policy.

Royal gained the nomination of the SP in 2006 as a surprise candidate beating out several party stalwarts. Since then, she has faced an uphill battle both from within her party and of course from the right.

The announcement of le pacte and other maneuvers has rallied the SP politicos as well as the party base around her bid for the presidency. She is steadily gaining the confidence of the French left and especially critically the youth.

As is to be expected, Nicolas Sarkozy is running a campaign of fear and hate coupled with extreme neo-liberal capitalist measures designed to punish the working classes. Sarkozy famously instigated the immigrant youth of the French "suburbs" instigating months of riots and chaos. After several youths were murdered by police, Sarkozy fed the flames by promising to "clean out" the "yobs" and "rabble" from the rundown suburbs "with a power hose."

Royal in a recent speech took a different approach:
Cheered by supporters and frequently interrupted by applause, she spoke with more ease than usual. When she talked about France's volatile suburbs, where riots erupted in November 2005 and high unemployment rates continue to curb the opportunities of second-generation immigrants, the emotion was evident on her face and in her voice.

"I want for the children in these suburbs what I want for my own children," she said, clenching a fist before her bright-red blazer and prompting the crowd to erupt into a two-minute standing ovation.

A former schools minister, she vowed that she would tackle the social exclusion in the suburbs by reducing the number of students in classes. She also promised free tutoring for students that have difficulties keeping up, and workshops for parents to teach them how to discipline their children.
She followed up with:
"The unfettered rein of financial profit is intolerable for the general interest," she said. "You told me simple truths. You told me you wanted fewer income inequalities. You told me you wanted to tax capital more than labor. We will do that reform."
Royal would certainly have my vote. It will be interesting to see how far left the Democrats go under the leadership of America's perhaps first female president Hillary Clinton. My hopes are not high.

Additional references: 1, 2

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Paris Hilton, Trashed Again

I've often said in conversation that Paris Hilton is the perfect example of the idle rich - a societal parasite who contributes little while consuming much. It is unfortunate that the many people like her, the glitterati of the bourgeoisie, are idolized and emulated.

Hilton offers nothing of value to society and in fact has an extremely negative impact. Not only does she waste the labor of countless workers through her conspicuous consumption, but she presents an image of beauty and style that devalues and degrades women.

She epitomizes the acme of the capitalist commodification process - she is simultaneously the perfect consumer and the perfectly consumed. She signifies and personifies unreflective specticalist celebrity.

As is well known, Hilton is greeted with adulation by crowds of admirers, all desperate that somehow they are coming close to greatness and that some will reflect back onto them. In fact the very "thing" they wish to get from their fleeting contact with Hilton they gave to her in the first place - it is their collective labor, their energy which has imbued Hilton with the fetish power of the super commodity.

Appropriately enough, last Thursday (15-Feb-2007) Paris Hilton was treated to a different kind of attention than she is used to by a group of young comrades in Austria. The Associated Press (via MSNBC) reports:
Earlier Thursday, hundreds of shrieking, frenzied fans welcomed Hilton as she made an appearance at a Vienna mall to sign autographs.

“Hello everybody, it’s so good to see you,” the 25-year-old cooed as the crowd went crazy. “Happy late Valentine’s Day!”

The session was cut short when several objects landed on the stage and Hilton was whisked away by security guards.

Lugner said the flying objects included cigarette packs, tissues and lipsticks.

The Austria Press Agency reported that sheets of paper that floated onto the stage were fliers from a communist youth organization.

Full story
Something of a mild form of agitprop, nevertheless Hilton was visibly shaken as the guards took her off the stage. She later stated that it was "no big deal" but the story was covered fairly heavily in the media, with all the proper indignation of course.

Marx says in Capital Vol I that we must force "the frozen circumstances to dance by singing to them their own melody" (Marx, 1967, 253). This is precisely what the agitators did by throwing trash at the queen of trash.

I applaud the actions of the people, "communist youth" or not, who took the risk in order to open a breach in the unending ideological self-adulation of the elites. Paris Hilton is selling us a load of trash, its high time someone gave a bit of it back to her!

Paris Hilton photographs herself @ Austrian ball
its just too easy

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Template

Long overdue, I have started to update my template for FoOL. There are a lot of things missing right now, specifically the comments from Haloscan. This change was required because the design was getting stale and it was hard to read and cluttered, but also because "Blogger 2" has changed so much from the past versions I basically had no choice.

Stay tuned, I am trying to import the comments from Haloscan, that failing I'll turn Haloscan back on.

In solidarity,


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Squid Switch

In honor of the catching of a colossal squid down in Oz today. Totally want one of these.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charles Barkley an Atheist?

Last night the San Antonio Spurs hosted the Denver Nuggets on their home court in the creatively named AT&T Center. Tim Duncan's mighty Spurs utterly and satisfyingly destroyed the Nuggets in a preview of the playoff potential of the winninest franchise in all major league sports.

More relevantly, was a comment by the announcer "Sir" Charles Barkley. During a clip of two players (in another game that night) fighting an announcer stated that one of the combatants was supposed to be a "good Christian boy."

Barkley then stated that didn't matter because Christianity and religion have killed more people than all the diseases in the history of the world.

Hyperbole perhaps, but nevertheless containing the essential truth that Christian's are not historically any less violent than their heathen brothers and sisters.

The shocking thing is that thus far there has been no right-wing uproar from the likes of Bill O'Reilly. Hopefully our religious leaders will not call for Sir Charles' execution (a la Hugo Chavez) in retribution for his blasphemy.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

We Want Tortillas not PAN!

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Some 75,000 unionists, farmers and leftists marched to protest price increases in basic foodstuffs like tortillas, a direct challenge to the new president's market-oriented economic policies blamed by some for widening the gulf between rich and poor.

Since taking office Dec. 1 after a disputed election, President Felipe Calderon has drawn his greatest criticism for failing to control the largest price spike in tortillas in decades. Tortillas are a staple of poor Mexicans' diet.

The national uproar has put him in an uncomfortable position between the poor and some agribusiness industries hoping to profit from the surge in international corn prices, driven mostly by the sudden explosion of the U.S. ethanol industry. A free-market advocate, Calderon has said he does not want to return to direct price controls enforced by many former Mexican presidents.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Faces of Tehran

Ever wonder what life in Tehran, Iran is like on a typical day? How differently they must live in that city versus how people in the US or Western Europe live?

Take a look here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Venezuela Laws Pave Way for Implementation of Socialism

The "decree law" in Venezuela is a common theme in many governments, especially in Latin America. Indeed, in the USA President Bush has asked for similar powers to "fast-track" trade deals. In Venezuela the president has limited powers to implement certain types of laws. Chavez with the current round of laws will be able to consolidate the socialist revolution in Venezuela by implement laws which will curb or eliminate the power of the bourgeoisie.
Caracas, Feb 1 (Prensa Latina) The popular approval of the "Ley Habilitante" in Venezuela, requested from congress by President Hugo Chavez, emerges on Thursday as a mechanism to encourage construction of a socialist project.

The National Assembly approved definitely at a session the request of essential powers presented by the president to accelerate transformations towards a new national model.

In the framework of the debate, executive vice president Jorge Rodriguez recalled that the mentioned rule is used to sow democracy, peace and socialism, instead of a dictatorship as some critics state.

This law is expected to last for 18 months as of its publication in the state newspaper, giving the president various faculties to approve decrees and rules with the range and force of law.