Sunday, April 29, 2007

Remembering May Day

International Workers Day began in the United States. It is celebrated as May Day throughout the world with the exception of the United States. In 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions began a campaign for the eight-hour working day. The federation set May 1, 1886, as the deadline for the bosses and their government to implement the measure. On that date hundreds of thousands of workers across the country went on strike. The Chicago labor movement, strongly influenced by revolutionary-minded workers who were anarchists, was one of the centers of the strike. Below is an account of the strike and its importance from Revolutionary Continuity: The Early Years, 1848-1917 by Farrell Dobbs. Dobbs was a central leader of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1953 to 1972. This excerpt is being run in place of the Books of the Month column to mark May Day. Copyright © 1980 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.


On May 1, 1886, the deadline set for inauguration of the eight-hour day, a gigantic strike wave developed. From coast to coast workers downed their tools, established picket lines, and held mass demonstrations. Then, in Chicago, Illinois—where outstanding labor solidarity was manifested—the capitalists launched a savage counteroffensive.

By that time the anarchists led by [Albert] Parsons and [August] Spies had emerged as the most influential radical tendency within the Chicago labor movement. At first they had been rather indifferent to the eight-hour demand, dismissing it as a reformist compromise with the capitalist system. But when it became apparent that the demand had drawn large masses into united action, they made common cause with the workers in the eight-hour fight as a means of promoting a general confrontation between labor and capital. Acting through trade unions under their sway, the anarchists helped to strengthen the effectiveness of the strike.

As the struggle unfolded, the Chicago police harassed the strikers day after day, trying to provoke an incident that could be used as a pretext for a full-scale attack on the trade unions. A labor rally to protest the police provocations was held at Haymarket Square on May 4. It was a peaceful assembly that was about to adjourn when a large body of cops descended upon it, demanding that those present disperse immediately. At that point a bomb exploded among the police, killing one instantly and wounding others. The forces of “law and order” then fired upon the assembled workers, inflicting many casualties.

This tragedy provided the capitalists with an alibi for a general assault on the eight-hour movement. Through a combination of witch-hunting and police repression labor’s ranks were divided, the strike undermined, and the workers forced to return to their jobs. Even under those adverse conditions, however, some reductions in hours were achieved because the formidable strength displayed by the trade unions had thrown a scare into many employers.

As part of its antilabor campaign the ruling class demanded vengeance against those held responsible for the Haymarket bombing, and the blame was fixed upon the anarchists, who had issued propaganda urging the workers to arm themselves in self-defense. Eight of them were brought to trial before a rigged jury that—acting out of prejudice against the defendants’ ideas—convicted them without the prosecution having presented any proof of guilt. After losing appeals made to higher courts, four victims of the frame-up were hanged: Albert R. Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer. Another of those scheduled to be hanged, Louis Lingg, escaped that fate only by committing suicide. Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden, both of whom had initially been doomed to execution, later had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Oscar Neebe received a fifteen-year prison term.

In a political sense, the Haymarket episode put an end to the anarchists’ leading role within the trade unions. Their movement was reduced to little more than a small band of intellectuals… .

The situation was different, though, concerning the individual anarchists charged with murder. They were honored throughout the mass movement as courageous fighters who had been singled out by the capitalists in an attack that was really aimed at the entire working class. When the jury found the eight defendants guilty, organized labor nationally launched a pardon campaign on their behalf. Following the executions a vast body of Chicago trade unionists attended the funeral of those whose lives had been taken by the capitalist government. The pardon campaign was continued thereafter until finally, a few years later, Governor John P. Altgeld of Illinois reviewed the trial proceedings and declared all the defendants innocent. Altgeld then freed the frame-up victims serving prison terms and granted pardons posthumously to those who had been hanged.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The Real Scandal At The World Bank

The Real Scandal At The World Bank
The Bank is Killing Thousands of the Poorest People in The World
by Johann Hari

While the world’s press has been fixated on the teeny-weeny scandal over whether the World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz helped to get his girlfriend a $300,000-a-year gig next door, they have been ignoring the rancid stench of a far bigger scandal wafting from Wolfie’s Washington offices.

This slo-mo scandal isn’t about apparent petty corruption in DC. It’s about how Wolfowitz’s World Bank is killing thousands of the poorest people in the world, and knowingly worsening our worst crisis - global warming - every day.

Let’s start with the victims. Meet Hawa Amadu, 70-something, living in the muddy slums of Accra, the capital of Ghana, and trying to raise her grandkids as best she can. Hawa has a problem - a massive problem - and the World Bank put it there. She can’t afford water or electricity any more. Why? The World Bank threatened to refuse to lend any more money to her government, which would effectively make it a leper to governmental donors and international business, unless it stopped subsidising the cost of these necessities. The subsidies stopped. The cost doubled. Now Hawa goes thirsty so her grandchildren can drink, and weeps: “Am I supposed to drink air?”

She is not alone. Half a world away, in Bolivia, Maxima Cari - a mother - is also thirsty. “The World Bank took away my right to clean water,” she explains. In 1997 the World Bank demanded the Bolivian government privatise the country’s water supply. So Maxima couldn’t afford it any more. Now she has to use dirty water from a well her villagers dug. This dirty water is making her children sick, and she is sullen. “I wash my children weekly,” Maxima says. “Sometimes there’s only enough water to wash their hands and faces, not their whole body … This is not a nice way to live.” The newly elected socialist government of Evo Morales is planning to take the water back - and he is, of course, condemned and threatened by the World Bank.

Meet some more victims. I have met hundreds, from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East. Muracin Claircin is a rice farmer in Haiti - only he can’t grow rice any more. In 1995, the World Bank demanded Haiti drop all restrictions on imports. The country was immediately flooded with rice from the US, which has been lavishly subsidised by the US government. The Haitian government barely exists and can’t offer rival subsidies anyway: the World Bank forbids it. So now Muracin is jobless and his family are starving.

Some 5,000 miles away, Charles Avaala in Ghana is watching his tomatoes rot. He used to grow them for a government-owned community tomato cannery that provided employment for his entire community. The World Bank ordered his government to close it down, and to open the country’s markets to international competition. Now he can’t compete with the subsidy-fattened tomatoes from Europe. He, too, is starving.

How would Hawa and Maxima and Muracin and Charles feel if you told them none of this is considered a scandal, but business as usual?

These victims are not merely an anecdote soup; they are an accurate summary of the World Bank’s effect on the poor. Don’t take my word for it. The World Bank’s own Independent Evaluation Group just found that barely one in ten of its borrowers experienced persistent growth between 1995 and 2005 - a much smaller proportion than those who stagnated or slid deeper into poverty. The bank’s own former chief economist, Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, says this approach “has condemned people to death… They don’t care if people live or die.”

Why? Why would a body that claims to help the poor actually thrash them? Because its mission to end poverty has always been mythical. As George Monbiot explains in his book The Age of Consent, the World Bank was created in the 1940s by US economist Henry Dexter White to be a further projection of US power. The bank’s head is invariably American, the bank is based in Washington, and the US has a permanent veto on policies. It does not promote a sensible mix of markets and state action - the real path to development. No: the World Bank pursues the interests of US corporations over the poor, every time.

The bank’s staff salve their consciences by pickling themselves in an ideology - neoliberalism - that says there is never a conflict between business rights and human rights. If it’s good for Shell, it must be good for poor people - right?

This ideology also backfires on us in the rich world. In 2000, the World Bank was finally forced to undertake a review of its energy policies. It did its best to rig it, putting the former energy minister of the corporation-licking Indonesian dictator General Suharto in charge. Emil Salim was even serving on the board of a coal company at the time he was appointed. But - to everyone’s astonishment - Salim concluded by opposing the carbon-pumping oil and gas projects that make up 94 per cent of all the bank’s energy projects. He said they should be stopped altogether by 2008.

The bank’s response? It ignored its own report and carried on warming. The business climate, it seems, trumps the actual climate. Feel the heat.

While the elites huff and puff about Wolfowitz’s alleged small corruption and ignore his organisation’s proven immense corruption, there is something we - ordinary citizens - can do. In the summer of 2001, at the global justice protests in Genoa, I met Dennis Brutus, a former inmate of Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela. He had been repelled by the bank’s actions in South Africa, and started his protests against them by asking a very basic question: who owns the World Bank? It turns out we do. Ordinary people in the West - through their trade unions, churches, town councils, universities and private investments - own it. The bank raises nearly all its funds by issuing bonds on the private market. They are often held by socially minded institutions, the kind who signed up to Make Poverty History. So, Brutus realised, we have a simple power: to sell the bonds and bankrupt the World Bank. “We need to break the power of the World Bank over developing countries just as the disinvestment movement helped break the power of the apartheid regime in South Africa,” he explained.

The campaign to make World Bank bonds as untouchable as apartheid-era investments has already begun. The cities of San Francisco, Boulder, Oakland and Berkeley have sold theirs. Several US unions have also joined. Even this small ripple has caused anxiety within the bank about the threat to its “AAA” bond rating.

In the Genoa sun, as tear gas fired by the Italian police hissed in the background, Brutus told me: “I lived to see the death of political apartheid. Now I want to live to see the end of global financial apartheid.”

This is the fight we should join. Not some petty squabble over which Washington technocrat is morally pure enough to lead the forces of subsidy-slashing and starvation.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Wolfowitz Struggles to remain as WB President

Petition to sack Wolfowitz here!

Paul D. Wolfowitz’s struggle to remain as president of the World Bank was dealt a setback on Sunday when a group of two dozen of the world’s finance ministers and leaders of other international organizations delivered an unusually public rebuke of his leadership, expressing “great concern” about the institution’s future and the need to preserve its credibility and the morale of its staff.

Mr. Wolfowitz, responding at a news conference, vowed to stay on at the bank, however, saying that he too cared about the bank’s ethical standards. “Look, I believe in the mission of this organization, and I believe I can carry it out,” he said.

The extraordinary exchange between Mr. Wolfowitz and the ministers and officials on a global committee that oversees both the bank and the International Monetary Fund, deepened the uncertainty over Mr. Wolfowitz’s future, which was thrown into doubt by the disclosure that he played a direct role in granting a pay raise and promotion to a female companion when she was transferred in 2005.

The events of the day, in which top officials took time out from discussing issues like poverty, set up a clear impasse between Mr. Wolfowitz and the leadership of the bank, as represented by what seemed to be most of the world’s finance ministers and most of the members of a separate 24-member executive board that governs its day-to-day affairs.

The rebuke of Mr. Wolfowitz came in the form of bureaucratic language in a series of sentences in the board’s communiqué that asserted “the current situation is of great concern to all of us,” an unusually blunt statement for a circumspect institution.

“We have to ensure that the bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff,” the committee said. “We expect the bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.”

Though the language was indirect, the message it sent was unmistakable, according to officials who have been meeting in Washington the last few days. “Words like ‘concerned,’ ‘credibility’ and ‘reputation’ are pretty unprecedented for a communiqué from a place like the World Bank,” said an official involved in the drafting of the statement.

At issue in these statements was a crisis arising from Mr. Wolfowitz’s involvement in decisions to transfer his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, to a new job and give her a raise.

Officially, Mr. Wolfowitz and the bank are now to wait for a full report by the bank’s board on his leadership and charges of favoritism in dealing with Ms. Riza, who was employed at the bank until 2005. But bank officials said that in delaying a finding on the matter, the board seemed to be buying time for Mr. Wolfowitz to consider resigning.

European officials close to the bank said that if anything, Mr. Wolfowitz’s apparent dismissal of the criticism on Sunday would increase the determination of the wealthy European donor nations of the bank especially Britain, France and Germany that he needed to step aside for the good of the bank.

Several European officials said their concern now was that Mr. Wolfowitz would not be able to carry out the job of raising $30 billion over the next three years for the International Development Agency, the arm of the bank that provides low-cost loans and assistance to the world’s poorest countries.

Mr. Wolfowitz signaled that raising the $30 billion was already a major challenge over the last year, not because of recent events. “The donors are now unfortunately in a position of not fulfilling their promises,” he said. Concerns about the future of this money were conveyed during the weekend to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., European officials said.

“This was a point conveyed in several meetings,” said a bank official. “I think Paulson knows this.”

Late Sunday, a Treasury spokeswoman, Brookly McLaughlin, said Mr. Paulson “is counseling all parties to allow the process to proceed in a fair and respectful manner.”

Mr. Wolfowitz’s comments came after a top steering committee of the bank and the International Monetary Fund declared that “the current situation is of great concern to all of us.”

“We have to ensure that the bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff,” the committee said. “We expect the bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.”

Bank officials and others close to the executive board said they hoped that Mr. Paulson, who they said mostly listened to complaints about Mr. Wolfowitz over the past three days and counseled patience on his future, would play a crucial role in persuading him to step down eventually.

A senior European official in the meetings said this was possible because Mr. Paulson went along with a communiqué that criticized Mr. Wolfowitz.

By all accounts, Mr. Wolfowitz spent the weekend churning through meetings with a determination to project confidence that he could weather the crisis.

“I think he has just wanted to tough it out,” said a bank official who watched him. “He’s clearly hoping that once everyone leaves town, he can go on and that all this will fade away. That has not happened and it is not going to happen.”

Mr. Wolfowitz made his public comments about intending to stay on at a news conference with Rodrigo de Rato, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and the chairman of the steering committee, Agustín Carstens, the finance minister of Mexico.

Each time he tried to steer the discussion into the importance of eradicating poverty in Africa and elsewhere, he was brought back to questions about whether he could lead an institution that, fairly or not, was in virtual revolt against him.

In response, Mr. Wolfowitz said that he agreed with the communique’s conclusion that the integrity of the bank was important and that he, like the bank’s policy supervisors, would await the conclusions of the bank board.

“The board is looking into the matter, and we’ll let them complete their work,” he said with a pained smile.

An earlier indication of Mr. Wolfowitz’s defiant approach came Saturday night, when he sent an e-mail message to World Bank employees with a link to selected documents that came to light on Friday relating to his handling of the case of Ms. Riza.

The documents he referred to showed that Mr. Wolfowitz had wanted to remove himself from handling Ms. Riza’s transfer and raise but was forced to make the arrangements himself because top lawyers and ethics officials at the bank said they did not want to get involved.

The e-mail seemed to increase the anger on the bank board and staff. A top official involved in the board meetings, which occurred on and off throughout the weekend, said, “It has backfired.”

That was also the view of others who more bluntly have called for Mr. Wolfowitz’s dismissal.

“We have not heard anything that will change our minds,” said April Cave, chairwoman of the association that represents most of the bank’s 7,000 employees in Washington. “He has apologized, but he hasn’t shown how he can restore trust at the bank.”

Some bank officials said that as a practical matter, Mr. Wolfowitz’s future may be decided by a complicated interplay of Bush administration and European politics.

The antipathy to his leadership is especially high in Britain, France and Germany, they said. The British chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, who is expected to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister as early as this summer, is under pressure from his own political base to stand up to the United States more than Mr. Blair has.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Development of Democracy in Europe and Asia

If you are in Singapore this Friday the 13th, join the Public Forum on Development of Democracy in Europe and Asia. The forums is held by both the Singapore Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats from Europe and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (ALDE-CALD) Delegation.

When: 13 Apr 07, Friday, 7:00 pm

Where: Sheraton Towers, Scotts Road
Opal Ballroom

Speakers: Dina Abad
Fiona Hall
Ignasi Cambo Guardans
Eugenijus Gentvilas
Lydie Polfer
Graham Watson
Chee Soon Juan

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Illegitimate Debt in D.C. and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This Saturday, on the occasion of the IMF / World Bank Spring Meetings, join us for a evening of film and discussion!

When: April 14th, 5:00-7:00pm
Where: GWU Campus, Elliot School of International Affairs
1957 E Street NW, Lidner Family Commons Suite 602

Who: *Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana*
American Friends Service Committee

* Charles Lowery*
Center for Responsible Lending

Film: * Congo's Tin Miners*

*What are the origins of the debt regimes in Washington, DC and the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

* How is the debt crisis in Congo linked to the crisis of predatory lending in low-income communities and communities of color in the U.S?

*What are the economic and political consequences of debt and how has debt played a role in systematic impoverishment?

*Who are the players and who has the power?

*How are the communities affected fighting back?

Sponsors: Friends of the Congo, Mobilization for Global Justice, Africa Action, 50 Years Is Enough, Washington Peace Center, TransAfrica Forum, Jubilee USA, Coalition of Pluralists and Congolese Patriots.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Global Imbalances, Power Shifts and the Future of Multilateralism

If anyone is in DC on the 12th:


The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is pleased to invite you to the seminar Global Imbalances, Power Shifts and the Future of Multilateralism, a discussion featuring:

· Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate economist, Columbia University

· José Antonio Ocampo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

· Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

· Moderated by Edmund L. Andrews of The New York Times

Multilateral economic institutions are facing a period of unprecedented challenges -- among these are large macroeconomic imbalances (including the US current account deficit), stalled negotiations at the WTO, and a much-reduced IMF. These three economists will discuss some of these current challenges and their implications for economic growth and development.

The panel discussion will be followed by a brief question and answer period.

Thursday, April 12, 2007
10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Root Room
1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, D.C.

Register here

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