Protests against Oligopolies, Inequality, Mining, & Dispossession in the Mexican Countryside (#23JMX)

“…The rich man came and broke [my yoke-ring],

He took off with all my corn,

Without even leaving me enough to eat,

And he presented me with my ‘bills’,

… What a shameless boss!

… My beloved said to me:

Don’t work for that man any more,

He’s just stealing from us,

… Long live the revolution,

And the end of supreme government…”

 

  • El Barzón (Mexican revolutionary song) [1]

 

El Barzón” (“The Yoke-Ring”) is a civil society organisation of farmers in Mexico which takes its name from the song above (about injustice in the countryside). Formed officially in 1994, it aims to “correct the political and economic causes of the recurring crises in the country that impoverish the population and stop the nation achieving sovereign, fair, and sustainable development on the basis of true democracy”. [2] Over two decades under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the group has fought to protect Mexican agricultural workers and ensure that they have not had to suffer from the economic effects of peso devaluation as much as they would have otherwise. It is considered partly responsible for the defeat of the PRI in the 2000 elections and, in December 2002, members of the group even entered the Mexican Congress on horseback along with other protesters. [3] On July 23rd 2014, El Barzón called for a protest in Mexico City (which will be discussed later in this article).

 

The leader of El Barzón, Alfonso Ramírez Cuellar, has warned that the Countryside Reform (Reforma al Campo) announced by President Peña Nieto is distinctly neoliberal in character. [4] Instead of dealing with the real problems in the agricultural sector, he affirms, the reforms will simply continue with the policy of hand-outs and ignore calls for profound change. He also insists that the so-called reforms will just continue to encourage the growth of inequality and the enrichment of a small number of private companies.

 

The true solution, for Ramírez, is to dismantle the oligopoly of countryside businessmen, which uses its money to take ownership of resources and the means of production. As a result of this current system, he says, small producers find it impossible to compete, and therefore have to sell their produce at extremely low prices. Meanwhile, the new reforms will only ‘reorganise rules’, leaving this vicious cycle completely intact. As an alternative, Ramírez proposes the creation of a public company capable of gathering, marketing, and selling agricultural produce. This, he says, would help producers to earn a living wage and ensure that consumers were not subject to the abuse of large corporations. Business speculation, he affirms, has seen the price of beans, eggs, and chicken rise unexpectedly, and can only be dealt with through greater competition and regulation. (One criticism of Ramírez is that, although his hopes for greater justice are honourable, his plan ill-advisedly seems to believe in the capitalist system rather than in true democratic control of the economy.)

 

On July 22nd 2014, a movement against mining corporations raised its voice in Mexico City, protesting at the Ángel de la Independencia on the ‘World Day against Toxic Mega-Mining’. [5] Numerous organisations showed their opposition to the abuses of foreign mining corporations, claiming that the reforms proposed by Peña Nieto will simply contribute to further destruction of land and communities in Mexico. In particular, they said the changes will open the door even wider for multinational mining corporations to enter the country and take control of water, land, and natural resources. The existent laws are already too relaxed, declaring as they do the ‘preferential’ nature of the corporate mining activities over all others (Article 6 of the Mining Law of 1992), but the currently proposed reforms will simply exacerbate the situation, the protesting groups insisted.

 

Francisco Cravioto, from the Centro de Investigación y Análisis Fundar, affirmed that, according to official data from 2012, mining concessions exist on 16% of Mexican land (and this figure doesn’t mention whether this land is in protected areas or places where productive agricultural activities are already present). According to the current law, landowners are obliged to give their land to mining corporations for exploitation or ‘temporary occupation’. Cravioto argued that such allowances (which are given mostly to foreign companies) are unjustified, as they barely contribute to the wealth of the country – with only 114,000 jobs (of a temporary nature and only representing around 0.2% of the economically active population) being created as a result.

 

Organisations and communities from eight states of the Mexican Republic have presented an initiative for a new Mining Law, which would place the consent of inhabitants as a priority and would abolish harmful and polluting forms of exploitation. Unfortunately, however, the government has ignored these groups. Sergio Serrano, meanwhile, from the Pro San Luis Ecológico collective, continues in his attempt to form a citizen initiative to propose a new Mining Law and Water Law, and hopes to collect at least 110,000 signatures in order to support his proposal. He says that the most recent Energy Reform will simply facilitate increased exploitation and occupation of land by adding even more concessions to the 900 already in existence.

 

Meanwhile, a day after the anti-mining protest, on July 23rd, thousands of agricultural workers marched in Mexico City against the ‘privatising’ and ‘dispossessing’ reforms of President Peña Nieto. Under the motto of #ElCampoEsDeTodos (the Countryside Belongs to Us All), protesters included El Barzón members, ejido inhabitants, indigenous groups, and consumers from around the country. El Barzón claimed that it was marching because “Mexico has over 119 million food consumers and more than 30 million producers, but a tiny handful of companies control the market, paying miserable salaries to peasants and fixing high prices in the city”. [6]

 

These protests are simply two in a long of examples of social organisation against neoliberalism in Mexico. Yaquis have acted to defend their water in Sonora; the Wixáritari have stood up to Canadian mining companies in San Luis Potosí; communities have taken the decision to defend themselves in the absence of government support in Guerrero, Michoacán, and elsewhere; and the Zapatistas from Tojolabal, Tzeltal and Tzotzil communities have resisted oppression and dispossession in Chiapas for over 20 years, forming an alternative to the dominant political model.

 

With all of these popular struggles throughout the country, the protests of the 22nd and 23rd of July are not at all surprising, but they show that, after 20 years of the injustices compounded by NAFTA, there are many Mexicans who are conscious of the dangerous effects of allowing neoliberal reforms to continue. They also give us hope that awareness, dignified rage, and just resistance to the current system are growing on a daily basis. And, wherever we may be in the world, we can draw inspiration and lessons from these struggles, using them to strengthen our own resistance.

 

Notes:

[1] Amparo Ochoa – “El Barzón” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFVUQN9CYEc

[2] Website of “El Barzón” http://elbarzon.mx/quienes-somos/

[3] Protesters Enter Congress on Horseback http://www.emol.com/noticias/internacional/2002/12/11/100216/campesinos-irrumpen-a-caballo-en-congreso-mexicano.html

[4] http://revoluciontrespuntocero.com/el-campo-mexicano-entre-oligopolios-especulacion-y-desigualdad-productiva/ (@RHashtag #RevistaHashtag #BocaDePoleno)

[5] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/07/23/politica/007n1pol

[6] El Campo Es De Todos http://www.lajornadajalisco.com.mx/2014/07/22/el-campo-es-de-todos/

23JMX El Barzón protests

Posted in Anarchism, Autodefensas, Autonomy, Bourgeois Democracy, capitalism, Climate Change, Democracy, dignity, Education, Enrique Peña Nieto, Environment, Exploitation, EZLN, Imperialism, Impunity, independence, Injustice, International Relations, justice, Libertarian Communism, mexico, Michoacán, Murder, Neoliberalism, Nestora Salgado, Oppression, Policías Comunitarias, politics, PRI, rebellion, revolution, Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona, Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle, socialism, Trade Unions, Zapatismo, Zapatistas | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MEXICO: We Need to Philosophise from an Indigenous Framework

Philosophising from Indigenous Communities: An Urgent Necessity

 

In Mexico, one of the main tasks for philosophers today is to deal with the country’s social reality, which in many ways finds itself in crisis. Mexican philosophy, therefore, unlike others, is situated within the socio-political context – which both conditions and facilitates the task.

 

The philosophy of indigenous communities in Mexico, however, has not been recognised, and has even been rejected, much like their ways of life and their right to autonomy. Below, we will discuss why their philosophies have been ignored or dismissed, and why this must change.

 

The recuperation of indigenous culture concerns us all, not just philosophers. In taking an interest, we discover numerous examples of inspirational resistance, such as: the defence of water in Sonora by the Yaqui tribe; the exploitation of the Wixárika territory in San Luis Potosí by Canadian mining companies; and the self defence of communities on the coast of Guerrero, where Community Police Forces have stepped up in the absence of a competent or interested State. And finally, we have the example of Zapatista communities in Chiapas which have defended their land since the agrarian crisis of 1974 and continue to build autonomous forms of societal organisation. But one recurring factor in all these campaigns is the discrimination of the government, landowners, and businessmen towards such indigenous peasant organisations.

 

In each case, questions arise regarding the legitimacy of these groups (as philosopher Enrique Dussel considered [1]), and regarding the philosophical basis behind such forms of organisation. In many cases, mestizos have learned about other cultures, but they have also looked down on them, having adopted a “Western” way of thinking. As a result, the idea of embracing and rescuing indigenous culture can be quite unsettling for them.

 

By encouraging the recognition of the diversity within the Mesoamerican cultures present in Mexico, we do not necessarily mean that everything “Western” should be overlooked or forgotten. However, we do need to start off with the correct conceptual framework. For example, we first need to accept the existence of a unique indigenous culture and challenge all doubts about the human condition of indigenous people. In México Profundo (‘Deep Mexico’), Bonfil Batalla helps us to develop this framework by deciphering what is presented to us as ‘reality’.

 

The attack on indigenous culture began with the Spanish Conquest, so we first need to look at how colonisation distanced the colonisers from the colonised. We also need to consider how the continued domination and centralisation of knowledge by Western philosophy in society has ensured that this ‘distance’, to a certain extent, persists today. From the very start, for example, Western ideologues claimed that indigenous inferiority was natural, and this idea soon turned into real social inferiority.

 

A fundamental characteristic of all colonial societies is the ideological affirmation that the invaders, who belong to a different culture from those who are being invaded, are in some way superior in all aspects and that, as a result, the culture of those whose land has been colonised must be rejected and excluded. And this is precisely the process that took place in Mexico, and continued after independence from Spain. As there was never a true decolonisation, the internal colonial structure simply remained, and the dominant class which took power after 1821 never renounced the Western ‘civilising project’ or the distorted view of Mexico held by the colonisers.[2]

 

An imaginary Mexico was soon created, with the idea of a “unique Mexican culture”, and the differences between the diverse communities within the nation were overlooked. As a result, the new ‘civilising project’ saw social groups which had been westernised (whether through heritage or circumstance) reject the place of Mesoamerican civilisation in their culture. The world views of the colonising and colonised civilisations, including their perceptions of nature and humans, were different, and their disagreements were intensified by the fact that westernised groups had considered indigenous communities inferior for centuries. The original inhabitants of Mexico which had failed to assimilate into the culture of the colonisers would have no part to play in the continuing Western project.

 

As a result of the subsequent homogenisation, our journey towards understanding the complexity of our own condition will be a long one. Colonisers and Western ideologues have long ensured that a process ‘deindianisation’ distances us from our roots – a tactic characterised by Batalla as the ‘loss of collective identity to make domination possible’. In summary, people were displaced and their ways of thinking and living were suppressed, all in order to create a fictitious Mexico that denies its own history and is even embarrassed by it.

 

In the process of recuperation, though, it is not only the mestizo who needs to reflect. Some indigenous communities have managed to conserve their identities in spite of the presence of the dominant culture, but there are also many who do not try to recognise themselves in the history of the ‘Deep Mexico’. Having been ‘deindianised’, both mestizo and indigenous citizens may be confused about their identities, unaware of their history, and therefore ignorant to the reasons behind the problems facing them and their communities today. Upon seeking to “recuperate the Indian” and “possess their own I”, mestizos in particular are likely to “see their reality divided”. Rather than this division being imposed upon them by the dominant culture, however, this division will now reside inside them, “in their own spirit”.[3]

 

When the mestizo approaches the indigenous, they begin to see how they are in a similar situation – that of exploitation. In this way, they learn to recognise themselves within this circumstance, and act in a different way as a result. They no longer see indigenous communities in the framework of the oppressor, and start to understand that ‘Indian’ was just a pejorative word used by colonialists to homogenise all that was ‘non-Spanish’ (or, today, ‘non-Western’). They also recognise that, by doing this, colonisers sought to declare the inferiority of all that was ‘different’.

 

So, in what way have philosophers approached indigenous cultures in the last century?

 

Before answering this question, it is important to emphasise that ‘indigenous communities’ are not one group alone – and that such a categorisation would place us in the same framework as the colonisers and their ‘Indians’. Instead, we could talk about the Nahuas, Purépechas, Tojolabales, Tzeltales, Huicholes, Chichimecos, Otomíes, Paipais, Kiliwas, Mazatecos, or Ixcatecos – to name just a few. To recognise the differences between these groups in this way is to respect their individual identities and give them each the place they deserve.

 

It is essential that we look at the world through the framework of a ‘Deep Mexico’. We could mention historical figures or groups, but that would only be to understand why different groups exist today. Instead, we should try to place ourselves within the conceptual framework of other cultures – such as the Tojolabales, Tzeltales and Tzotziles, who called themselves Zapatistas in their fight to defend their land and sovereignty in Chiapas. We should also look at the world through the framework of their construction of a new form of political organisation – totally different from that present in the West. By looking at the world in the way they do, we can begin to understand that their circumstances are ours too.

 

In “Philosophising in the Key of Tojolabal”, Carlos Lenkersdorf affirms that politics, for this community, must be looked at from the “we” (or -tik). At birth, mothers are surrounded by family members as they go into labour, and the new-born child is passed into the arms of each one. The place of the baby on the back or chest of the mother in the first few months represents the incorporation of the child into the “we”, as it observes and becomes a part of its mother’s daily activities. In this way, learning is a collective process from the moment of birth in the Tojolabal context.

 

Meanwhile, the problems set out at school are always related to what happens in the community, and the problems are solved by the whole community. The presence of “WE” is essential, and education here is therefore referred to as “we-centric”. This is the basis of both the community’s politics and organisation.

 

The “–tik” is key in understanding Tojolabal philosophy, as it is central whenever the community refers to experiences, thoughts, or decisions. It represents a “large number of components or members, including animals and nature” and, without “losing their individuality”, each member is considered a part of all that surrounds them.[4] Although the different opinions of individuals are heard, an attempt is always made to reach a consensuswith the common good in mind. And the impact of decisions on nature, from animals to rocks, is of great importance – hence the Tojolabal commitment to defending land and subsequent conflict with Western philosophy, whose project of neoliberalism does not consider the impact of its actions on the Earth.

 

In a socio-political framework, the “we” is an organisational principle. It is the community organisation in assemblies which does not resemble the form of political association dominant in the world today. It considers the combination of intelligence, feelings, and reason when making decisions, but is propped up by judgements based on experience and on the will to act. And all members of the community are considered in these decisions.

 

In the Tojolabal context, the key is cooperation and collaboration – both based on organisation. Their Mexico – one example of ‘Deep Mexico’ – brings all citizens together to reach a consensus, respecting differences of opinion in the process. The other Mexico – the fictitious one – does not.

 

As we have seen, the dominant schools of philosophy and politics are not the only ones. There are others to consider, and we must open ourselves up to them. By reflecting on the knowledge of our indigenous communities, and asking ourselves how we can create a “we” space like in Tojolabal communities, we can visualise and create new horizons. Upon considering the quantity and distribution of citizens, however, along with the structures used when they relate, we see that the possibilities for creating these new horizons vary. In a place with thousands of inhabitants, for example, where people are unaccustomed to discussing every decision that affects them, such a task would be incredibly difficult. And many citizens are unused to such dialogue precisely because ‘democratic’ procedures have minimised participation to elections or ‘majority’ decisions (however slight the margins). This is the norm today, and it makes understanding other forms of organisation a significant challenge.

 

From a framework of Western concepts and experiences, other forms of organisation appear strange and inaccessible, and it is therefore crucial that philosophers engage with the ‘Deep Mexico’, and the diversity that lies within. The same is true throughout Latin America (and other former colonies), where different forms of philosophising, knowing, and existing are present. And they are all within our reach, as parts of our nations, even though they may be buried, ignored, or rejected.

 

Reflecting on alternatives is an urgent task for philosophers, and a great worry for the current generation. The taking of water in Sonora, displacements in Chiapas, or invasions of Canadian mining companies are risks to us all. We may be a combination of different ethnic groups, but we all share the same condition. We are all exploited.

 

We must therefore assume the task of counter-hegemonic philosophy, of embracing and understanding the different traditions that have been hidden for too long. In order to bring about change in the concrete situations we experience on a daily basis, we must open up the discussion, philosophising not from the dominant ideologies, but from the framework of our own indigenous communities. By doing so, we can set out potential solutions and transform both our way of thinking and our way of life.

 

________________________________________

[1] Dussel, Enrique. “¿Son legítimas la policía y la justicia comunitarias según usos y costumbres?” en La Jornada [en línea], publicado el 15 de enero del 2013.

[2] Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo. México profundo: una civilización negada. Editorial Grijalbo, México D.F, 1989. p. 11

[3] Villoro, Luis. Los grandes momentos del indigenismo en México. México, CIESA-SEP, 1987. p. 225

[4] Lenkersdorf, Carlos. Filosofar en clave tojolabal. Edición de Miguel Ángel Porrúa, México, Porrúa, 1ª edición, 2002. p. 29

 

Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from a text originally posted in Spanish on July 18th, 2013 at http://filosofiamexicana.org/2013/07/18/filosofar-desde-los-pueblos-originarios-una-necesidad-impostergable/ (@FilosofiaMexico) by Luz María León (luzfilos@gmail.com)

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Posted in Anarchism, Autonomy, Bourgeois Democracy, capitalism, Climate Change, Democracy, dignity, Education, Environment, Exploitation, EZLN, independence, Injustice, justice, Latin America, Libertarian Communism, mexico, Neoliberalism, Oppression, Pedagogy, Policías Comunitarias, politics, rebellion, revolution, Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona, Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle, socialism, Teachers, Zapatismo, Zapatistas | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge is Really About Natural Gas

Originally posted on Anti-Imperialism.com:

While many articles have debunked the myth that Israel is acting out of “self-defense,” very few have attempted to establish why Israel is continuing its assault on Palestine through Operation Protective Edge, aside from the supposition that Zionists have a fanatic penchant for drawing Palestinian blood. Behind the operation, behind the mass Israeli and U.S. propaganda attempting to justify the massacre, and behind the death of every child in Gaza is a conflict rarely discussed, an imperialist conflict and a contradiction that rests on Israel’s ambitions to appropriate and profit from Gaza’s natural gas resources.

To provide some background, the natural gas issue arose in the year 2000 when British Gas (BG) discovered what they claimed to be $4 billion worth of natural gas reserves off the coast of Gaza. The Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) and British Gas (BG) both invested in the project, with BG holding 60% of…

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Palestine On Our Lips (RvsR)

Once again, Palestine is on our lips, and Gaza pierces our hearts. The Zionist State of Israel has intensified its acts of extermination against the Palestinian population over the last few weeks and, in Nablus, Ramallah, and Jerusalem, Palestinians have been indiscriminately pursued, detained, and assaulted. In Gaza, the Israeli bombardment has been relentless, and has intentionally targeted the Palestinian people with its criminal attacks. It is clear that Israeli Zionism is a conscious crime against human beings of a different ethnicity. Just like Nazism, it is a crime against life that, in every sense, is an act of genocide.

 

We know all too well what has been happening in Palestine for decades. For those who don’t, just imagine a child walking through the street with their father and then suddenly being surrounded by Israeli soldiers who shoot at them for no apparent reason (apart from the fact that they are Palestinians). Imagine that the father tries to protect his son from the bullets but that the bullets reach his child. The father’s powerlessness forces him to cry out in pain as he stands over the lifeless body of his young son.

 

The child has a name: Muhammad al-Durrah. And so does the father: Yamal Al-Dura.

 

Now let’s imagine a primary school with a young girl inside. She studies hard and attentively, but the class is interrupted by the bullet of an Israeli soldier, which flies into her head. This act was no accident. It was on purpose. And this girl also had a name: Raghda Alassar.

 

And finally, let’s imagine a boy is going to visit his grandfather, who lives around five minutes away. There’s no apparent danger – neither Israeli tanks nor soldiers are in view. He hurries, but falls near a market. There were snipers in the area. His mother soon finds out, but doesn’t believe he’s dead, though his body lays motionless and he has bullets in his groin and chest. Yet again, this boy had a name: Munir al-Daqas. And so does his mother: Kifah.

 

In the last few days, the names of the following girls and boys killed by the Israeli Army in Gaza have been released: Seraj Ayad Abed al-A’al (8), Mohammed Ayman Ashour (15), Hussein Yousef Kawareh (13), Bassim Salim Kawareh (10), Mousa Habib (16), Ahmad Na’el Mehdi (16), Dunia Mehdi Hamad (16), Amir Areef (13), Mohammed Malkiyeh (1½), Ibrahim Masri (14), Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra (4 – who arrived at the hospital “in pieces”), Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra and Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour (unknown ages), Maryam Atieh Muhammad al-Arja (11), Abdullah Ramadán Abu Ghazzal (5), and Yasmin Mohammed al-Mutawwaq (4). And this number continues to grow on a daily basis.

 

The Zionist State of Israel feels no remorse. It is conscious of its crimes, and accepts that children are among the dead. The hatred it feels towards “the other” is so strong that it believes they also had to die. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachen Begin captured the essence of this merciless, ethnic Zionism when he said: “We are gods on this planet. We are different from inferior races just as they are different from insects… Other races are like human excrement. Our destiny is to govern our inferiors”.

 

The Palestinian people, however, who affront the Israeli State with their mere existence, remind it that no human has supremacy over another – and that no people have supremacy over another. In the face of humiliation, they show dignity. And in the face of hatred, disdain, and death, they show life, resistance and, just like our Zapatista comrades, Dignified Rage.

 

So from Mexico (and the numerous corners of Mexico where the “Network against Repression and In Favour of Solidarity” is found), we express our solidarity with the dignified Palestinian people. We unite our Dignified Rage with yours, and our voice speaks with outrage alongside yours. We feel the pain in Palestine and Gaza, and we shout from our territory, against Zionism: “Palestine Will Resist!”

 

July 2014 – Network against Repression and In Favour of Solidarity (RvsR)

 

Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from an article originally written in Spanish at: http://www.redcontralarepresion.org/leer.php?id=896 and http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2014/07/16/rvsr-palestina-en-nuestros-labios/

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UK Strike: “If We Organise Together as Working People, We Can Win”

On July 10th, 2014, the UK saw a one-day strike of up to a million teachers, firefighters, civil servants, council employees, and health workers. This strike – the biggest that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has faced up to this point – was directly related to the government’s neoliberal austerity policies. A key aspect of this agenda has been ‘pay restraint’ for public-sector workers, who had a pay freeze imposed on them between 2010 and 2012, followed by a 1% cap on pay rises ever since (while RPI inflation in 2014, for example, has stood at around 3%). This programme has resulted in employees suffering a fall in income in real terms (as the cost of living has not been ‘frozen’, and has increased year upon year), leading unions to criticise what they call ‘poverty pay’.

 

The weekend before the strike, however, the government announced that the pay freeze would continue until 2018, showing that they were committed to following through with their policies and ignoring the voices of hard-working professionals. It has tried to justify the freeze on a regular basis by claiming that, ‘in a time of austerity’, it doesn’t have the funds to raise wages in line with inflation. According to PCS[1] General Secretary Mark Serwotka, however, “politicians of all parties… trot out this rubbish daily to justify huge cuts in public spending, including the jobs and pay of millions of public servants” while, in reality, the ‘austerity’ rhetoric is a lie which seeks to hide the fact that the country is “not broke”. Instead, he asserts that “the money is [simply] flowing in the wrong direction, and often into the offshore accounts of wealthy tax dodgers”.

 

With insufficient pay, pension cuts, increased workloads, and encroaching privatisation, public sector workers once again felt it was necessary to say “enough is enough”, according to TUC[2] General Secretary Frances O’Grady. Thanks to the pay freeze, he said, salaries have “failed to keep up with the cost of living… year after year” – a claim backed up by Serwotka, who affirmed that “public servants, like most people, simply cannot make ends meet”. As a result, strike action was inevitable.

 

FBU[3] General Secretary Matt Wrack, meanwhile, asserted that the government is destroying public services and “wrecking the lives of millions”, and that firefighters have taken strike action in particular because of pension changes and the effect that funding cuts and privatisation have had on workplace safety. He insisted that “the failure of [government] policies” was evidenced by the fact that so many workers had decided to join the strike action against the government. FBU members, he said, face “a stark choice of being sacked or losing half their pension” and that this showed “claims that the government values our firefighters” to be “an utter lie”.

 

NUT[4] General Secretary Christine Blower also asserted that government politicians, and in particular Education Secretary Michael Gove, are “refusing point blank to accept the damage their reforms are doing”. She emphasised that teachers “deeply regretted” taking strike action but that, because the teaching “profession is on its knees” and the government is not listening to what the professionals say, they were forced to strike as a last resort. Government policies, she affirmed, were leading skilled teachers to leave the profession due to low morale (exposing it to future staff shortages), and that responsibility for the strike therefore lay firmly with the government. “Teaching is one of the best jobs in the world”, she insisted, but it “is being made one of the worst [and one that fewer and fewer people will want to do] under Michael Gove and the coalition”.

 

The NUT, along with Unite[5], Unison[6], and the GMB[7], reaffirmed what Frances O’Grady said about pay rises lower than inflation causing a fall in the living standards of workers. Amidst these conditions, the NUT also pointed out the damaging effects of the proposed change to the pay structure of the teaching profession (which will be replaced by performance related pay) and the fact that teachers, who already work around 60 hours a week on average, face working until the age of 68 – with reduced pensions when they finally retire. The union insisted that such changes to the pension structure, in which teachers will pay more and receive less, simply add to the pressure that teachers already have to deal with. Blower, meanwhile, asserted that frequent external assessments, and Michael Gove’s constant reforms of the curriculum and examinations system, are causing “unnecessary stress to teachers, pupils and parents”.

 

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis, also echoing O’Grady’s words, emphasised that “it is a massive decision by local government and school support workers to sacrifice a day’s pay by going on strike, but today they are saying enough is enough”. At the same time, he pointed out that the government and its “friends in the media” were trying to discredit the strikes and “do everything they can to rubbish [union] members and attack the few employment rights that we have left”. He also reminded us that the UK has “some of the toughest strike laws [and anti-trade-union laws] in Europe”. Instead of threatening to make these laws even tougher, he said, workers need to pressure the government into “changes that would reduce the unfair advantage that employers have”.

 

Mark Serwotka repeated Blower’s regrets about the inconvenience to the general public, but affirmed that PCS members felt they had to demonstrate that “everyone depends on our members’ services” and that they therefore deserved “a decent wage”. And herein lays the main reason for strike action: the fact that public sector workers are not seeing any benefit from a recovering economy, and are actually up to £4,000 worse off than they were in 2010. Whilst accepting the existence of Britain’s huge budget deficit, workers are becoming ever more aware that the government is attacking them to pay off the nation’s debt rather than placing the burden on wealthy corporations that avoid tax and exploit workers on a daily basis.

 

Strike Day

 

Members of more than six different public sector unions (mainly from the NUT, FBU, Unison, Unite, GMB, and PCS) exercised their legal right to protest against injustice on July 10th, marching through the major cities of the UK demanding the attention of their government. Museums and libraries were shut, and passengers at airports were told to expect delays, but the main impact was seen in the education sector, where around 21% of schools in England (around 6,000) were closed (according to the Department for Education), and a further 912 were shut in Wales. Though the PCS went on strike throughout the UK, the FBU and NUT only struck in England and Wales, while the others struck in all nations apart from Scotland. Hot spots of strike support, according to Unison, were the North East, Wales, and the East Midlands (where most council offices have closed), and that, thanks to over 60 picket lines in Newcastle, most public services were shut down there.

 

In London, demonstrators marched towards Trafalgar Square at mid-day, chanting “low pay, no way, no slave labour”, accompanied by RMT members working for Transport for London. NUT members, meanwhile, carried inflatable scissors reading “education cuts never heal”. But it was a chant of “fair pay” that most unified striking workers, with the main rally calling for a living wage and receiving great applause as a result. One supporter of such a demand was US union activist Ginger Jentzen, who played a prominent part in the victorious “$15 Now” campaign in Seattle in June 2014 and joined strikers in solidarity with the NSSN[8]. Having also lent her support to the NSSN’s “£10 Now” campaign, she affirmed that union actions had the power to change political debates. “Wealth inequality”, she said, “is on the political agenda in the US and it’s a testament to the pressure from below in terms of the low wage worker walkouts”. She also emphasised that, “if we organise together as working people, we can win”.

 

In Wales, meanwhile, 70,000 workers went on strike, seeing business at the Welsh Assembly and elsewhere cancelled for the day. In Northern Ireland, a number of services were also shut down thanks to the action of the Public Service Alliance. At the same time, 919 government workers in Scotland took part in industrial action (representing over 12% of the workforce).

 

Parents who had to look after their children as a result of school closures were reported to have varied in opinion regarding strikes. Many understood why teachers were striking but, according to BBC reporter Jo Black, comments ranged from ‘annoyed to sympathetic’.

 

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith, meanwhile, said that “strikes are meant to cause maximum pain for employers” but that this strike was not likely to cause them much damage. In fact, he affirmed that annoyance in the divided British public could actually increase support for the Conservative Party’s anti-union proposals. He also stated that mainstream newspapers were likely to support such a stance.

 

From Misery to Hope

 

The official government line, as expected, was a miserable combination of victim-blaming and arrogance. The Cabinet Office, for example, claimed the strike had had ‘little impact’, affirming that most schools in England and Wales were open but that strike action was still “irresponsible”. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said that fewer than 500,000 people had participated in the walkout (though the GMB and Unison insisted that over one million people had taken part in the strikes). He also declared, in a House of Commons address, that “responsibility for the disruption caused by the action lay with union leaders”, and that it was “not right for members of the public to be inconvenienced”.

 

Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, asked how it could “possibly be right for our children’s education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in this way”. In a plan to weaken the power of unions like Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s, Cameron has proposed changing employment law to impose a minimum participation in union ballots on industrial action. He has proposed this change in response to calls from leading Conservatives (and the business leaders that control them), who have been pressing for at least a 50 per cent turnout in order for union ballots to be considered legal, and for the introduction of a time limit on how long a vote in favour of industrial action can remain valid (which would reduce the possibility of ‘rolling strikes’). Such ‘tough new laws’ have been threatened if the Conservatives win next year’s general election.

 

The NUT, however, seems to harbour hope of a positive response from the Establishment. Avoiding open conflict with the coalition’s neoliberal policies, the NUT instead affirms that disagreements with the government are mostly related to the “implementation” of programmes rather than their content. Using Finland as an example, it insists that “productive dialogue” can lead to “positive results… for children, education and teachers”, hoping that the strike will help to push Michael Gove into tackling the problems it points out and reducing the number of inspections so that teachers can spend more time focussing on their lessons.

 

Dialogue is a key part of what unions do, and in that aspect it is indeed important, but the NUT’s optimism regarding the government seems too much like wishful thinking. When politicians from all the major parties (including the supposedly ‘left-wing’ Labour) have criticised the unions, saying they are making ‘unreasonable demands’, it is clear that ‘dialogue’ is not enough. Even Labour leader Ed Miliband (a fan of the fruitless dialogue that almost always ends up with workers losing out) took an anti-union stance once again, affirming that strikes “are always a sign of failure… on all sides”. So, whilst insisting that the government should bear responsibility for the strike, he also blamed unions in equal measure – something which would be unthinkable for a true workers’ party.

 

The fact is that the government continues to ignore the voice of professionals, sticking firmly to its commitment to reducing the size of the public sector, privatising as much as possible, and blaming teachers for ‘disrupting children’s education’. With such a miserable authoritarian stance, it should become more and more apparent to us all that the government has no respect for workers, and no interest in the ‘positive dialogue’ that the NUT hopes for.

 

The government hopes to discredit the strike by pointing out that it was based on ballots conducted several years ago with low turnout from union members, even though a simple majority of voting members is perfectly legal. The NUT ballot, for example, which was held in 2012 and had a turnout of 27%, was picked on as an example by Michael Gove, who said children needed protection from “politically-motivated industrial action”. A key question here, though, is why turnout was so low. Just like in elections, many citizens are clearly doubtful about the power that collective action can have. Thanks to Thatcher, hopes that unions could bring about change were dashed, and a significant people have lived in a passive, submissive state ever since as a result.

 

Not content with having divided workers and created a materialistic, individualistic society back in the 1980s, though, the Conservatives aim to quash the signs of remaining unity in the UK. But they did not win the 2010 elections with a majority, and they will not win a majority next year. So their attacks on workers and their forms of organisation do not have to continue. As Ginger Jentzen pointed out – if we organise, we can win. And this does not only mean voting for an anti-austerity, socialist party like Left Unity next year, but also recapturing the fighting spirit of union members of the past. The consciousness of working people must be reawakened, and they must be helped to rediscover the power that mass collective action can have.

 

Workers must know that it is not the unions that are ‘irresponsible’, but the government, which attacks trained professionals and their living standards whilst allowing or helping exploitative corporations to get richer. They must know that it is not the unions that are ‘inconveniencing members of the public’, but the government, which is damaging both society and the economy by cementing injustice and encouraging greater inequality. And they must know that children’s education is not ‘disrupted’ by unions, but by ignorant bureaucrats who unilaterally interfere with a profession they know almost nothing about whilst refusing to listen to the trained workers who know it inside out.

 

The miserable rhetoric of the Conservatives is correct. Participation in union votes should indeed be higher, and low turnouts unfortunately represent the weariness of British workers after decades of neoliberal onslaught. However, participation in general elections should also be higher, and low turnouts in these situations are far more worrying.

 

Conservative hypocrisy, however, means that they are perfectly happy, when it suits them, to run a government which received the support of only a small handful of eligible British voters. But if they are dead set on criticising democracy in trade unions, let’s make sure they also criticise themselves too. Let’s make sure they accept the fact that they are not democratic representatives of the UK population; criticise the way in which they make decisions that go against the wishes of the British people; and condemn the absence of consultation with professionals before they make decisions that are going to affect the quality of life of millions of workers.

 

Michael Gove was right. There was indeed a political motivation behind the strike. But it was not an attempt to destabilise an already unpopular government (politicians are entirely capable of doing that all by themselves). The strike was simply the search for justice for hard-working public sector professionals. It was the search for an end to austerity measures which have hit ordinary workers hard whilst allowing rich elites to benefit from their increasing misery. And it was a sign that the rising consciousness of workers means the status quo will not remain intact for too much longer.

 

Notes

 

[1] PCS = Public and Commercial Services Union (representative of civil servants, passport office workers, public sector staff, etc.)

[2] TUC = Trades Union Congress

[3] FBU = Fire Brigade Union

[4] NUT = National Union of Teachers

[5] Unite = Representative of local government, council, and teaching staff

[6] Unison = Representative of workers in local government, healthcare, colleges and schools (also the biggest public-sector union and the second largest union in the UK)

[7] GMB = Representative of workers who serve school meals, clean streets, and empty bins, along with carers and school support workers

[8] NSSN = National Shop Stewards Network

 

Article written by Oso Sabio using information obtained from the following source:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nut-teachers-strike-why-are-union-members-striking-on-thursday-9595835.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2014/07/uk-public-sector-workers-stage-pay-strike-20147101873695769.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28241181

http://rt.com/uk/171544-strike-poverty-pay-j10/

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28240683

public sector trafalgar square july 10th 2014

Posted in Anarchism, Autonomy, Bourgeois Democracy, capitalism, Conservative Party, Democracy, dignity, Education, Europe, Exploitation, Imperialism, Impunity, independence, Injustice, justice, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Libertarian Communism, Margaret Thatcher, Neoliberalism, Oppression, Pedagogy, politics, socialism, Strike, Teachers, The Media, Trade Unions, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palestine: This is not a War, it’s a Massacre

The Palestinian cause is not the cause of the Palestinian people alone, but the cause of each revolutionary wherever they may be, because it is the cause of the exploited and oppressed masses

- Ghassan Kanafani (Writer and militant of the PFLP murdered by Mossad in 1972)

The most recent offensive on Gaza is just another in a long line of murderous Israeli campaigns to assert their political domination over Palestine. Meanwhile, these operations also allow Israeli military corporations to tell their clients (police forces, armies, and intelligence services throughout the world) that their tactics and weaponry have been “tested on the ground”.

The official justification for the latest attack, however, is the kidnapping and murder of three young colonisers back in June (for which no Palestinian group claimed responsibility and which some even suspect may have been an undercover operation). In fact, several sources have proven that Israel’s government knew that the colonisers were dead (and even where their bodies were) just hours after their kidnapping, but it hid the information in order to justify unleashing a two-week-long offensive on the West Bank. And this came only two weeks after a historic agreement of unity between Hamas and Fatah, suggesting that Israel’s attack actually hoped to undermine this alliance.

Thousands of homes were raided, twenty people were killed, and hundreds were detained – including academics, social activists, and personalities who belonged to or sympathised with Hamas. Then it was Gaza’s turn. Once again, Israel said it was defending itself from homemade Palestinian rockets (not necessarily from Hamas). However, there have been a grand total of ZERO deaths in Israel as a result of these rockets, along with almost no significant material damage. This is partly because Israel has anti-missile shields and refuges, and an incredibly organised and well-funded military. Gaza, on the other hand, which has suffered from an Israeli land, air, and water blockade for almost eight years, has none of these. It has no drinking water, electricity, and almost no fuel or medical equipment for its hospitals and ambulances. Its 1.6 million people are simply trapped and bombarded mercilessly by Israeli forces. On July 9th, dozens of deaths were recorded, along with hundreds of injuries.

All of this plainly shows that this is not a war, but a massacre perpetrated by the fourth most powerful army in the world against the planet’s most densely populated territory, and against a people that has no army, air force, or navy – and has never had them – and has simply resisted Israel’s military occupation and racist colonisation for around 70 years (mostly through non-violent means).

Western governments and the mass media, however, repeat the Zionist narrative that “Israel has the right to defend itself”, in spite of what international law and UN resolutions say. Israel aims to use money and political alliances to turn itself from the occupier and thief into the victim, and the Palestinians (who have been dispossessed, robbed, and oppressed for generations) into the aggressors.

And Israel continues its murderous attacks precisely because of this complicity, propaganda, and silence. Between 2008 and 2009, when 1400 Gazans were killed, the UN found Israel guilty of war crimes, but it was not sanctioned. It simply doesn’t pay the price internationally for the crimes it commits and, as a result, its constant daily violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people continue.

The victims, meanwhile, justifiably keep resisting. And that plays into pro-Israeli propaganda, which claims Palestinians ’cast the first stone’. As Frank Barat (Coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine) said, however, we must respond to such discourse firmly, repeating on a constant basis that “Israel declared war on the Palestinian people in 1947/1948, when it ethnically cleansed the majority of their homeland”. Barat also says that, as long as Israel continues to occupy and colonise Palestine, practising a policy of ethnic cleansing and collective punishment against its people, it cannot complain when they resist. In fact, Resolution 3101 of the UN General Assembly (of December 1973) affirms the right of people under colonial or foreign domination (or under racist regimes) to fight for self-determination. Palestine, therefore, has the legal right to fight back.

Gazan writer and activist Samah Sabawi says that we must not only consider the number of Israeli bombs that have fallen on Gaza and the number of deaths they have caused, but also the days and years of Israeli occupation – under which Palestinians have lived and died without citizenship; rights; dreams; work; water; land; or homes. So the next time politicians or the media try to justify Israeli attacks on Palestine, it is immensely important to remember the context of Palestinian resistance, and why it will not stop as long as Israel continues its brutal racist occupation and its oppression of the Palestinian people.

Adapted by Oso Sabio from a text originally written in Spanish by María Landi (http://mariaenpalestina.wordpress.com)

palestine israel terrorism child slingshot

Posted in Assassination, Autonomy, Bourgeois Democracy, capitalism, Democracy, dignity, Exploitation, Imperialism, Impunity, independence, Injustice, International Relations, Israel, justice, Murder, Neoliberalism, Oppression, Palestine, politics, rebellion, revolution, The Media, USA, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Criminalisation of Autonomous Social Activism

The high security prisons of Mexico are now home to those who demand justice, defend their territory against large neoliberal business projects, and organise their own security in the face of violent organised crime. In Nayarit, for example, Comandanta Nestora Salgado of the Community Police Force of Olinalá, Guerrero, is being held, along with recently imprisoned social activist Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz.

 

Suástegui is the spokesman and historical leader of the CECOP (Council of Ejidos and ‘Comuneros’ Opposed to the Parota Dam), and was imprisoned on July 3rd. This detention occurred just after the CECOP announced it would form its own Community Police Force in order to protect 47 communities in the region from government attempts to push forward with a hydroelectric project which will threaten the safety and livelihoods of citizens in the area.

 

The recent detention of Autodefensa leader José Mireles, meanwhile, has drawn support from throughout Mexico – including the Nahua town of Santa María Ostula, where the Community Police Force rejects government claims that organised crime in Michoacán is under control. They insist that criminal infrastructure (including the main leaders and economic activities of criminal groups) is still intact, and that the politicians who collude with organised criminals still enjoy complete freedom within each level of the government. While social activists are being increasingly criminalised, they say, no one has been imprisoned for the murders or disappearances of Ejido members (or comuneros) in Ostula or in other communities in Michoacán’s Costa Sierra.

 

Ostula’s support for Mireles is related to the fact that an assembly of over two thousand comuneros there forged an alliance with Mireles’s Autodefensa group. The town was also home to the first manifestation of indigenous organisation which aimed to exercise the right to self-defence. From the Pacific Coast of Michoacán, they insist that the disarming of their town and other communities in the Costa Sierra would result in their violent murder at the hands of organised criminals and that, for precisely this reason, they continue to defend their right – and the right of other communities – to defend themselves against transgressors.

 

In summary, the increased criminalisation of social activism and organisation is a shameful tactic employed by a government intent on defending the interests of criminals. The violence and intimidation of these criminal groups lead to displacement of communities, which in turn benefits corporations that are intimately linked to the government and drive its political projects. The imprisonment of those intent on defending their communities is simply an attack on the citizens that the government is supposed to serve. Conscious of its role in ‘controlling society’ for the benefit of corporate interests, the government justifies the detention of social activists with false evidence, and uses treachery, illegality, and human rights abuses to ensure that citizens remain passive and submissive. With increasing consciousness of government attacks on brave, noble citizens, however, the Mexican people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that their political system needs to change.

 

Translated and adapted from an article by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, which originally appeared in “Los de abajo” (losylasdeabajo@yahoo.com.mx) in La Jornada on July 5th, 2014, and also appeared at www.desinformemonos.org

Posted in Anarchism, Assassination, Autodefensas, Autonomy, Bourgeois Democracy, capitalism, Democracy, dignity, Education, Enrique Peña Nieto, Environment, Exploitation, EZLN, Imperialism, Impunity, Injustice, justice, Latin America, Libertarian Communism, mexico, Michoacán, Murder, Neoliberalism, Nestora Salgado, Oppression, Policías Comunitarias, politics, PRI, rebellion, revolution, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment