Saturday, December 15, 2007

Striking MTV workers workers win partial victory

It is great news that the striking workers were able to force some concessions from the bosses. It is encouraging to see that workers' consciousness is being raised as well. The risk of the partial victory is that many workers will likely feel like they pushed the bosses and got lucky that they "let them stay on the insurance" - which is likely what management wants. Workers conscious of the fact that it is their right to be treated fairly in the workplace is far more dangerous for the bosses, and the longer the strike lasts, the more people will wake up to this fact.
MTV Networks on Wednesday reversed some of the cuts it had intended to make to benefits packages.

Workers said they would continue to challenge the remaining proposed changes, and nearly 100 of them protested for a third day outside the headquarters in Times Square of Viacom, MTV’s parent, amid throngs of holiday tourists.

Stetler, Brian. MTV to Let Freelancers Stay on Its Insurance. New York Times. 13-Dec-2007.

Survival of the fittest: will Cuba outlast US?

Thanks to blog Darwiana for pointing me to this article and for the excellent title:
The American dream is dead, said famed Nobel Prize laureate in Economics Joseph Stiglitz a few days ago. The passing of that dream is seen not only by him, but also by many Americans.

What some forward-thinking social scientists and certain visionaries once predicted —which is not as a prophecy to be fulfilled over the course of centuries, such as the prophecies of Nostradamus— but in the short-term, in the times in which we are now living.

If the idea is still not palpable to millions of those Americans who still live atop the bubble of hedonism and consumerism, it will become more so to the degree that this illusion is inevitably punctured by the heat generated by domestic policies. This also points to the contradiction of a régime that flaunts the well-being of its population and to high consumption as its principal badge of honor.

A system based on voracity and destruction will have no safe harbour, not even for its own people, to continually employ methods that harm people. Not only the war, with its blood-soaked dead and wounded soldiers; or the price of food, which has already become a concern for very low-income people—especially in this era of the ethanol— and other well-known actions are de-legitimizing and tossing the “American dream” overboard.


Martínez Molina, Julio. The Death of the American Dream. 02-Nov-2007.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Crisis of the transient workforce deepens

Corporations have been on the offensive against workers rights for years now. One key example is in the United States the incredible shift over the past 25 years from full-time, union jobs being dominant, to the current scenario of a transient workforce, whereby most workers are contractors with transient status.

This tactic has been very common throughout the history of capitalism (e.g. Bracero Program), but the current period is unique insofar as the practice cuts across all categories of workers including high-paying jobs such as computer programmers, and it is wide spread, being the dominant form of wage labor.

HR gurus and others have catchy phrases attached to the theory of the transient workforce, such as "right to work", "free agency" and "continuous rightsizing."

Workers, on the other hand, know its wrong, and they call it like they see it:
Scores of workers from MTV Networks walked off the job yesterday afternoon, filling the sidewalk outside the headquarters of its corporate parent, Viacom, to protest recent changes in benefits.

Freelance workers from MTV Networks outside the headquarters of the company’s corporate parent, Viacom, on Monday.

The walkout highlighted the concerns of a category of workers who are sometimes called permalancers: permanent freelancers who work like full-time employees but do not receive the same benefits.

Waving signs that read “Shame on Viacom,” the workers, most of them in their 20s, demanded that MTV Networks reverse a plan to reduce health and dental benefits for freelancers beginning Jan. 1.

In a statement, MTV Networks noted that its benefits program for full-time employees had also undergone changes, and it emphasized that the plan for freelancers was still highly competitive within the industry. Many freelancers receive no corporate benefits.

But some of the protesters asserted that corporations were competing to see which could provide the most mediocre health care coverage. Matthew Yonda, who works at Nickelodeon, held a sign that labeled the network “Sick-elodeon.”

“I’ve worked here every day for three years — I’m not a freelancer,” Mr. Yonda said. “They just call us freelancers in order to bar us from getting the same benefits as employees.”

Stetler, Brian. Freelancers walk out at MTV Networks. 11-Dec-2007.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Primative accumulation in contemporary China

Pictured right is Chinese labor activist, Huang Qingnan. He lies injured after he was attacked with a machete for helping workers fight for their rights. These types of attacks were very common in the US well into the 20th century. Workers were beaten and lynched on a regular basis by paid thugs and police. One of the most famous incidents was the Ludlow Massacre, perpetrated in the name of John D Rockerfeller.
Chinese activists have been concentrating on publicising the contents of the new Labour Contract Law that will come into force on 1 January next year. One of its positive features is that it will make it more difficult for employers to dismiss workers.

The law was passed despite fierce and sustained opposition from multinationals led by the American Chamber of Commerce, who threatened capital flight.

A compromise draft was eventually approved by the National People’s Congress – China’s non-elected parliament – with the bosses reassured by the certainty that implementation will be lax, not least because China’s only legal trade union is constitutionally and legally bound to uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

While this link gives the organisation considerable leverage in law drafting, the union has barely any influence on the shop floor. Local government officials frequently find common interest with capitalists and ensure that enterprise-level trade unions are run by management or their stooges.

The rare instances of union officials speaking out on behalf of workers usually leads to their being sacked or transferred. Workers who organise outside the traditional union structures face arrest and imprisonment.

Although there is no protection of the right to strike in China and freedom of association is banned, there has been a marked increase in strike activity, as workers have made good use of recent labour shortages and a growing awareness of workers’ rights to demand a living wage paid on time.

Independent unions are banned, but workers often form hometown associations that are sometimes capable of organising strikes. Occasions where these associations unite in strike action are increasing.

The fight for labour rights in China’s cities. Socialist Worker. 11-Dec-2007.

Greek strike brings country to a halt

A general strike in Greece has shut down the country's public services, hospitals and public transport system. The labour action has hit Athens International Airport, where all flights into and out of the city have been cancelled. Ferries and boats also remain in docks across the country, paralysing transport to and from Greece's hundreds of islands. Only a handful of trains and trams in Athens ran for five hours on Wednesday morning, mainly so that strikers could travel to the capital for a rally. Greek labour unions have called the 24-hour strike in opposition to government pension reform plans.

Greek strike brings country to a halt.
Deutche Welle. 12-Dec-2007.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chavez can turn defeat into victory

Excellent op-ed piece:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may yet salvage a victory from the defeat he just suffered. He won't be able to overturn the results of the referendum on his constitutional reforms. And that's as it should be. A majority of Venezuelan voters told him to change course.

But contrary to the heated rhetoric of the campaign, the aftermath of the referendum seems to be bringing both sides closer together.

Chavez promptly congratulated the opposition for its victory and acknowledged that low voter turnout may have been the ultimate cause of the constitutional reform defeat.

For their part, opposition leaders acknowledged the fairness of the process and offered to meet with the president to "initiate the process of reconciliation." They are even suggesting that they will now work with the president to implement some of his proposals, such as extending social security benefits to workers in the informal sector, or the reduction of the workday to six hours.

Except for a few die-hards, the new opposition leaders are not using their victory to push for the unconstitutional removal of Chavez from office, as the previous opposition leadership did for seven long years.

In accepting defeat, Chavez has also burnished his democratic credentials. He has proven that he can win nine consecutive elections, but he can also lose one. Chavez's previous electoral victories, although internationally recognized as clean and fair, were nevertheless rejected by the opposition under various pretexts. Sunday's defeat creates a sense of democratic normalcy that will make it much harder for the extremist opposition to find any traction with their claims of Chavez's authoritarian bias.

The defeat provides Chavez and his supporters with an opportunity to redirect their efforts to bread-and-butter issues that affect the majority of Venezuelans, instead of the more arcane and theoretical realm of creating the "socialism of the XXI Century."

Since his resounding victory last year, Chavez has increasingly moved his focus away from the kind of policies that gained him the support of a vast majority of Venezuelans, such as the massive creation of housing, the eradication of illiteracy or the implementation of a Cuban-modeled health care system.

Although Chavez has an impressive economic record that combines fast growth with the deepest reduction of poverty rates in South America, Venezuelans had come to resent the fact that he seemed to be more interested in building international alliances to counterbalance American power than he was in dealing with domestic corruption and crime.

Perhaps the only true loser of the election is the Bush administration, which until the very last minute continued to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela by working with the extremist wing of the opposition to reject the results of the election if Chavez won and to help plan a series of actions meant to destabilize the country.

The surprising result of this referendum has lessons for all the parties involved.

For Chavez, it is an opportunity to adjust course and regain the full support of the Venezuelan people.

For the opposition, it proved that Chavez can be defeated by constitutional means.

For the White House, it shows that the best way of protecting democracy in Venezuela is to allow Venezuelans to choose on their own how and by whom to be governed.

Prada, Juan Blanco. Chavez can turn defeat into victory. 10-Dec-2007.

Venezuelan democracy

I heard someone comment recently that Venezuela is not a democracy. The evidence is to the contrary:
With the defeat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms, aimed at "opening the path to socialism," in the referendum on December 2, by a tiny margin of 50.7% to 49.3%, many Venezuelans are asking ‘what happened?' why, when approximately 7.1 million people voted for Chavez in the presidential elections in December 2006, did nearly 3 million of them abstain in the constitutional reform referendum a year later?


Contrary to international media portrayals of the Chavez government as restricting free speech, the rightwing opposition controls the majority of media outlets in Venezuela and they used them to spread lies and rumours aimed at instilling fears about the proposed constitutional reforms. It was said, for example, that if the reforms were passed the state would be able to take your children away and that people's personal property, houses, cars and small businesses would be expropriated by the state. They also presented a proposed change which would have removed presidential term limits allowing Chavez to stand for reelection, such as is the law in France, Australia, the UK and around 170 other countries around the world, as a vote on whether Chavez would be "president for life." The opposition also carried out illegal anonymous advertising campaigns and distributed fake copies of the constitutional reforms with falsified articles.


Janicke, Kiraz. Why The Constitutional Reform In Venezuela Went Down And Where To Next!. 10-Dec-2007.
The power of international capital is immense, its shocking how often they portray themselves as victims of bogeymen, as they do with Chavez, Castro and others. The defeat of the reforms is ominous and disappointing, but not surprising.

The ongoing crisis in capital with its upheavals and contradictions cannot counter the truth that a humane, rational system to replace capital, that is a socialist system, is required for the betterment of all mankind.