Tuesday, October 21, 2014

De-industrialisation and socialism

by Michael Roberts

Last week I spoke on a panel that debated De-industrialisation and socialism.  The panel was organised by Spring, a Manchester-based group in England that has become a forum for the discussion of developments in capitalism and their implications for the prospects for socialism (http://www.manchesterspring.org.uk/).

The main theme for this panel discussion was the evident fact that the industrial sector (manufacturing, mining, energy etc) has declined sharply as share of the output and employment in the mature capitalist economies during the 20th century.  The question for debate  was: does this mean that the working class has also declined and is no longer the main force of change in capitalism; and also that a socialist or post-capitalist society will be a world without industry or employment of industrial workers?

The first point I made in the discussion was that the world is not de-industrialising.  Globally, there were 2.2bn people at work and producing value back in 1991.  Now there are 3.2bn.  The global workforce has risen by 1bn in the last 20 years.  But there has been no de-industrialisation globally.  De-industrialisation is a phenomenon of the mature capitalist economies.  It is not one of the ‘emerging’ less developed capitalist economies.

Using the figures provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) we can see what is happening globally, with the caveat that there is a serious underestimate of industrial workers in these figures and such transport, communication and many hi-tech workers are put in the services sector.

Globally, the industrial workforce has risen by 46% since 1991 from 490m to 715m in 2012 and will reach well over 800m before the end of the decade.  Indeed, the industrial workforce has grown by 1.8% a year since 1991 and since 2004 by 2.7% a year (up to 2012), which is now a faster rate of growth than the services sector (2.6% a year)!  Globally, the share of industrial workers in the total workforce has risen slightly from 22% to 23%.  It is in the so-called mature developed capitalist economies where there has been de-industrialisation.  The industrial workforce there has fallen from 130m in 1991 by 18% to 107m in 2012.
Global workforce
The big fall has not been in industrial workers globally but in agricultural workers.  The process of capitalism sucking up peasants and agro labourers from the rural areas and turning them into industrial workers in the cities is not over.  The share of agricultural labour force in the total global workforce has fallen from 44% to 32%.  So should we not really talk about de-ruralisation, as Marx did in the mid-1800s?  That is the great global phenemonon of the last 150 years.

Of course, most workers globally work in the services sector.  This sector is badly defined, as I say, and is really anybody not clearly an industrial or agricultural worker.  This sector was smaller than agriculture in 1991 (34% to 44%) but now it is biggest at 45% compared to 32% for agriculture.

As I was speaking in Manchester, the centre of the industrial revolution in Britain in the early 19th century, I was reminded of the work of Friedrich Engels, Marx’s partner in crime, who was managing his uncle’s German firm in the city at the time.  As a young man (29 years), Engels wrote The condition of the working-class in England in 1844
and described the horrendous conditions of squalor, disease, sweat shop conditions, injury and poverty that rural men, women and children were subjected to as they came to work in the fast industrialising and urbanising cities of northern England.  It’s the same story now in the likes of India, China, south-east Asia and Latin America.  Engels concentrated on the conditions for labour, but in a preface to a new edition of his book in 1892, he commented that Britain was fast being replaced as the major industrial capitalist power by France, Germany and the US.  “Their manufactures are young as compared with those of England, but increasing at a far more rapid rate than the latter.  They have reached the same phase of development as English manufacture in 1844”.  And so it is now for the so-called emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa compared to the mature capitalist economies of Europe, Japan and North America.

But it’s true that the share of industrial workers in the mature economies has fallen from 31% in 1991 to 22% now.  Indeed, according to McKinsey, manufacturing employment fell 24% in the advanced economies between 1995 and 2005.
US manuf emp
So does this mean that the future of capitalism without an industrial proletariat capable of being an agency for change and, for that matter, ‘post-capitalism’ will a society without industry, where people can expect to reduce their hours of work for a living and have increased periods of ‘leisure’?

This was the theme that my fellow panellist Nick Srnicek posed.  Nick is a Fellow in Globalisation and Geopolitics at UCL. He is the author with Alex Williams of Inventing the Future (Verso, 2015) and the editor with Levi Bryant and Graham Harman of The Speculative Turn (Re.press, 2010) – see
Nick explained that, while new economies were being industrialised, their peak of industrialisation came earlier than for economies like Britain in the 19th century.  Indeed, no economy had achieved more than a 45% share for industrial employment.  So the future is not industry and an industrial working-class.  And it was no good advocating a return to manufacturing and industry as the way forward for a better society.

I am sure that Nick is right in these points. Where I differed was that he was not clear if a post-capitalist, non-industrial society would be achieved gradually as capitalism expanded globally and technology replaced heavy industrial work and people worked less hours and could use their time for themselves.  The idea of a steady move to a post-industrial, leisure society was the concept of Keynes back in the 1930s, arguing for capitalism as the way forward to his students at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when many of his students had started to look to Marxism as the explanation for crises and the alternative of socialism (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/keynes-being-gay-and-caring-for-the-future-of-our-grandchildren/ ).

Keynes reckoned the capitalist world would achieve huge per capita GDP growth and enter a ‘post-capitalist’ leisure economy without poverty.  Well, this blog has regularly revealed data that show poverty remains a terrible spectre over the globe, an inherent feature of capitalism, and that far from moving to a leisure society, working hours have hardly fallen much in the mature economies and remain very high in industrial sectors of the emerging economies.  We are all still ‘toiling’ for a living (apart from the 1%), in increasingly precarious jobs.

I don’t think we can get a ‘post-capitalist’ leisure society through gradual change.  It will require a revolutionary upsurge to change the mode of production and social relations globally, even if the potential productivity of labour through new technology and robots etc  is already there globally to deliver such a transition to freedom from toil.  Capitalism remains in the way as a fetter on production, with capitalists as a class force opposed to freedom.

The reason that the mature capitalist economies have lost their industrial base is that it was no longer profitable for capital to invest in British industry in the late 19th century or OECD industry in the late 20th century. So capital counteracted this falling profitability by ‘globalising’ and searching for more labour to exploit.

And profitability fell because capitalist accumulation is labour-shedding.  Capitalists compete against each other to get more profit.  Those capitalists with better technology can steal a march on others by boosting labour productivity and reducing labour costs by cutting the workforce.  So the drive is always for reducing the amount of labour power to boost profits.  The central contradiction here, as explained by Marx’s law of profitability, is that the reduction in labour power relative to mechanisation leads to an eventual fall in profitability.  This reduces the industrial workforce in the mature economies and leads to expansion of industry globally. Capitalism is a mode of production for mechanisation, but mechanisation will also lead to its demise as it is a mode of production for profit not social need and more mechanisation eventually means less profitability.  That shows that as we move towards a robot economy: profit for capital and meeting social needs will become more incompatible.  And the leisure society just an impossible dream.

Employment growth is falling in the advanced capitalist economies. Employment growth is way less than 1% a year in the 21st century.
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Computer engineer and Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, Martin Ford puts it this way: “over time, as technology advances, industries become more capital intensive and less labour intensive.  And technology can create new industries and these are nearly always capital intensive”.  The struggle between capital and labour is thus intensified.

It does depend on the class struggle between labour and capital over the appropriation of the value created by the productivity of labour.  And clearly labour has been losing that battle, particularly in recent decades, under the pressure of anti-trade union laws, ending of employment protection and tenure, the reduction of benefits, a growing reserve army of unemployed and underemployed and through the globalisation of manufacturing.

According to the ILO report, in 16 developed economies, labour took a 75% share of national income in the mid-1970s, but this dropped to 65% in the years just before the economic crisis. It rose in 2008 and 2009 – but only because national income itself shrank in those years – before resuming its downward course. Even in China, where wages have tripled over the past decade, workers’ share of the national income has gone down. Indeed, this is exactly what Marx meant by the ‘immiseration of the working class’.

Will it be different with robots? Marxist economics would say no: for two key reasons.  First, Marxist economic theory starts from the undeniable fact that only when human beings do any work or perform labour is anything or service produced, apart from that provided by natural resources (and even then that has to be found and used).  So, crucially, only labour can create value under capitalism.  And value is specific to capitalism.  Sure, living labour can create things and do services (what Marx called use values).  But value is the substance of the capitalist mode of producing things.  Capital (the owners) controls the means of production created by labour and will only put them to use in order to appropriate value created by labour.  Capital does not create value itself.

Now if the whole world of technology, consumer products and services could reproduce itself without living labour going to work and could do so through robots, then things and services would be produced, but the creation of value (in particular, profit or surplus value) would not.  As Martin Ford puts it: the more machines begin to run themselves, the value that the average worker adds begins to decline.” So accumulation under capitalism would cease well before that robots took over fully, because profitability would disappear under the weight of ‘capital-bias’. This contradiction cannot be resolved under capitalism.

We would never get to a robotic society; we would never get to a workless leisure society – not under capitalism.  Crises and social explosions would intervene well before that.

UK: Thousands march in London against austerity

 by Richard Mellor

Huge protests in London last weekend against austerity. As I watched this, (the folks in black with the masks are not nurses, and are engaging in their usual self indulgent activity divorced from the working class) I also thought about the anti-immigrant blame game that seems to have gained traction since I left the country.  We have it here in the US too.  I noticed all the immigrant workers in this crowd, I also know that so many immigrant workers make the NHS function.  What would an anti-immigrant slogan do in a movement like this? It would split it, weaken it, serve the interests of the bankers, hedge fund managers and other parasites who are destroying workers' living standards.

When I was young, for a brief moment the views a racist politician, Enoch Powell got a bit of an echo with me.  He never used overt racist language but talked about threats to "our" culture etc., he was educated, a real intellectual.  It made sense for a brief moment in time. If immigrants left wouldn't we have more jobs for us? Wouldn't social services be less strained? This is what the right wing mouthpieces of British imperialism like the Daily Express or the Mail used to say.  My parents got the Daily Express.

I was fortunately rescued once when the issues were explained to me from a worker's point of view and how the unity we needed to raise all our living standards was threatened by this nationalist, xenophobic and ultimately racist position. I would not have thought myself a racist and didn't have racial motives and I came to understand that the threats to my livelihood didn't come from people who originated from a colonial country and have brown or black faces.  Those threatening my livelihood  looked like me, spoke very good English, and drank tea most likely.  The similarity ended there.

Let's not fall prey to the immigrant blame game no matter where we are?

Monday, October 20, 2014

US Middle East policy in shambles as US relies on "terrorists" to do their fighting for them.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I recall in my years as a union steward in the workplace how tough the bosses’ would be on workers who transgressed.  “You need to be proud of your work, ensure that you are productive and that the job is done right” one management person told a worker who received 3 days suspension for his sins. “We have to get their attention” was the justification for the bosses’ actions and this was in a public sector workplace where the climate is much more favorable to the worker. Some were fired, had their livelihood taken from them. Hey, you have to show people that poor workmanship will not be tolerated.

The same rules don’t apply to the bosses of course, particularly those in the highest places, those who make the decisions that result in destruction and death.  Leaving aside the disastrous Vietnam War that left some three million of them dead along with almost 70,000 Americans, the years of meddling and violence in the Middle East by US imperialism and the British before them has led to one disaster after another and the present crisis.

The nation states created by the European colonial powers are disintegrating.  The Pentagon’s former pals, bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and others, have been disposed of but other old allies are waging a vicious war to drive western influence out of the region.

Kurdish fighters confronting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on the ground, and who are fighting ISIS on the Turkish-Syrian border, are pleading with the US to send them heavy weaponry.  The Turkish government, an ally of the US is opposed.  There are some 15 million Kurds in Turkey and two of the main Kurdish organizations, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been classified as terrorist organizations by the US and Turkey. The Turks consider the PYD the Syrian arm of the PKK.

The invasion and long running war the US has waged in Iraq has been a disaster with the possibility of the breakup in to three states being suggested in some circles as the only solution, A Shiite state in the South, a Sunni center and Kurdish north.

But the Turks will not succumb easily to the idea of a Kurdish state on its southern border and a strengthened Kurdish presence in Syria. The problem is that the Kurds are doing most of the ground fighting against the dreaded ISIS.  The criminals at the Pentagon do not relish the idea of US troops dying in any war especially these forays as they are not popular at home.  The media propaganda about threats to our way of life at home is used to overcome some of this opposition.

The whole situation is a disaster.   Trillions of dollars have been wasted and millions of people killed or displaced thanks to what can only be described as US foreign policy gone haywire.  No one will be punished for these decisions. Paul Wolfowitz, remember that creature? His buddy was Scooter Libby and Cheney was their superior.  Wolfowitz, as Bush’s Undersecretary of Defense was responsible for what was covertly known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, a defense guide for the US that outlined the US’s right to preemptively bomb or invade any nation that appeared to be a rising superpower threat. (Like Grenada perhaps).  Even a staunch representative of US capitalism like Edward Kennedy thought the plan a little to truthful describing it as "a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.".  This doctrine was executed by Bush of course and has been taken up by Obama.

Bush, Rumsfeld, Obama, and the entire US Congress, millionaires all, are responsible for the endless imperialist wars in the Middle East that have caused such massive environmental destruction and human suffering, including thousands of young US workers in the military killed and many more maimed.  Islamic fanatics and the general rise of Islamic terror groups are the product of this disastrous US foreign policy and its massive cost is the reason the war against workers at home has intensified.  The first day of the Syrian strikes in early September, US warships lobbed 47 Tomahawk missiles in to the area.  These missiles cost about $1.4 million each.  Heroic act isn’t it, lobbing laser guided WMD’s at people from ships out in the ocean.  Terrorism perfected.  In an earlier contribution I commented on the attacks on the teachers and their union in Philadelphia.  The Wall Street Journal also had an editorialabout it savaging the teachers and their union. It talked of an $8 million deficit this school year, about ---six Tomahawk missiles.  This journal of the 1% attacked the teachers for refusing to "   bargain in good faith." giving up a "...mere $2 million up in concessions"  The deadline to take an offensive of our own to where the money is has long passed; there is no need for concessions. Yet in the upcoming elections, even the left liberals in the Democratic Party will be demanding new taxes and “shared sacrifice” as band-aids for a crumbling empire’s social structure.

But it’s not all bad news as Robert Fisk points out in the Independent UK.  Last month…”. the paper’s long time Middle East correspondent writes, “….American warships fired $65.8m worth of Tomahawk missiles within just 24 hours of each other.”  Referring to the 47 missiles.

This has been wonderful news for US arms manufacturers whose share prices are “soaring”.
The open-ended air war against the Islamic State group will mean billions in sales for bombs and missiles, spare parts for warplanes and a stronger case for funding sophisticated aircraft, including fighter jets, spy planes and refueling tankers…..” Dan De Luce writes at the Middle East Online website.

Over the last three months as the Standard and Poor’s index declined 2.2%, “…shares for Lockheed Martin are up 9.3 percent, shares for Raytheon rose 3.8 percent, Northrup Grumman's shares are up 3.8 percent and General Dynamic's share price jumped 4.3 percent..  De Luce adds.

Isn’t the market swell?  How many of you reading this have significant investments in the defense industry?

The crisis in the Middle East cannot be solved on the basis of capitalism.  All ethnic groups in the region have the right to self-determination and control over their natural resources.  But this is not possible on a capitalist basis. Only a united working class and the struggle for a federation of democratic socialist states can stop the never ending capitalist wars.  These wars and US supported dictators have seriously weakened the region’s working class and its organizations.  The US orchestrated the coup that overthrew Iran’s secular democratic government in 1953---punishment for nationalizing their oil industry to get it out of the hands of the British. They installed the murderous Shah that led to the rule of the Mullahs. The CIA was instrumental in helping Saddam Hussein wipe out the Iraqi Communist Party and weaken the trade union movement. US taxpayer’s money has propped up all the dictators and opponents of democratic rights in the region and set back the workers movement in the area decades.

It is not a pretty picture and the setbacks have been severe, but the Arab and Iranian working class have a rich militant history against imperialist intervention.  A future of peace and progress is impossible under capitalism, it is not guaranteed it is possible at all, but there is hope that the working class in the region and throughout the world will rise to the task history has prepared for it.  There’s no other way out.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Russia and Ireland. Russian Orthodox and Irish Catholic churches and capitalism.

Criminal leaders of the Catholic Church
By Sean O'Torrain.

I see that thug at the head of the sports industry in Russia has been disciplined for the racist and sexist remarks he made about the African American tennis playing sisters, the Williams. He deserves all he gets.  This made me think about a similarity that exists between Ireland and Russia.

When the gangster capitalists around Putin, and also those who were and are competing with Putin's gang, stole everything that was not nailed down, privatized everything that was not nailed down, and made themselves into billionaires, they were left with a problem. They were not popular. This is putting it mildly. In fact the truth is they were hated. The truth is they had and have no social base. This is where the backward orthodox churches came in.

You are all familiar with them with their weird hats to make them look taller, their weird robes to make them look important and so-called sacred, their big staffs to make them look intimidating, and their straggly dirty looking beards, I do not know what these are for. The new capitalist class gave this organization, run by a clique of backward freaks, back their property and position in society. In return for this these creatures support the gangster capitalists and their system all the way.  In return they get pushing their agenda against women and against any kind of sexual relations of which they do not approve. Well at least do not approve openly. This is why these churches have power and why attitudes to gay people and other gender minorities are so backward in the former soviet union. It is because of the weakness of Russian capitalism and its need for this outfit as an ally.

This brings me to Ireland. When the 26 counties got its so-called independence the Irish capitalist class were in a very vulnerable position. They had not lead the struggle against British rule, in fact for most of the time they had opposed it. This struggle was fought by workers, small farmers and intellectuals. So when the 26 counties got their so-called independence the capitalist class were worried. They needed allies. They and their system needed propping up. They turned to the Catholic church as the new Russian capitalist class have turned to the orthodox churches. And the Irish capitalist class made a deal. The Irish catholic church could have control over the schools, the heath care system, a veto over all social legislation, they could have the country declared a catholic country. The point man in this was the extreme right wing catholic reactionary De Valera who had squirmed his way out of being executed with the rest of the 1916 leaders. The result of this has been the horror of the crimes of the Catholic church in Ireland. The slave labor in the laundries, the stealing of the children from mothers who were not married, the sexual abuse and on and on. And on top of that by making the South a catholic state the strengthening of the Protestant state and Loyalism in the North. Irish capitalism lies at the root of the sectarian state and the crimes of the Catholic church in Ireland.

There is a similarity between Ireland and Russia. The similarity is that the weakness of capitalism in both states has strengthened the right wing reactionary religious organizations, has cultivated them, has given them space and encouragement to grow. As they say nature abhors a vacuum.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sinn Fein. Sexual abuse cover up. Implications for revolutionary left.

by Sean O'Torrain.

It is very difficult not to conclude that former member of Sinn Fein MS. Cahill is telling the truth when she speaks about being raped by an IRA member and speaks also about how her experience was handled. This must be discussed and every effort made to further alert society about this issue of sexual and physical abuse especially against women. While this is done we should consider two things. One, there are many forces now who want to use this to weaken SF. This is natural. However this should not in any way prevent principled people from demanding the truth come out. SF has a case to answer. The second aspect of this is that this should not be confined to abuse in SF. This abuse, of women and (men) exists in all sizable revolutionary left organizations. (I am not suggesting that SF is a revolutionary organization)

The way this is handled is usually this. The victim is approached by the leadership and appealed to that in the so-called interests of the organization and the revolution they keep quiet. This puts enormous pressure of the victim and has to be condemned. It is not in the interest of the revolution or of any revolutionary organization to have such abuse covered up. The priority has to be to combat this abuse, and not just in this or that organization, but in the left and the working class in general. The priority must be to have a non-sectarian approach. That is not to be against this abuse when it happens in some other organization and keep quiet when it happens in the organization we may be part of. The general evil of sexual abuse has to be taken up wherever it exists. 

There are some noticeable voices on the left that are quiet at the moment. But before going to those I would like to applaud those large numbers of members of the SWP who stood against the pressure of their then leadership and took on the sexual abuse of a leading member of their own organization. This is an example to all left groups. These Comrades had their priorities right. They have to be congratulated and thanked for this. 

But there has been sexual abuse in other organizations. Just a couple of years ago I was contacted by a leading member of the CWI in Canada. The then leading member, a male, had beaten this member up, broken her finger, threw scalding liquid at her, thrown her out on the freezing Toronto winter street with no shoes and then began a campaign of phone calls to her workplace saying she was unstable and in this way trying to keep her quiet. The initial reaction of the CWI leadership was to send one of their leading members to Canada to try and keep this woman Comrade quiet. In the course of this the leading CWI member called the woman Comrade who was physically abused a "whiner." When I took up her case I was accused of "using" of "manipulating" this woman Comrade. This continued until I had to get off a list i was on the abuse against me was so bad. And this was inspite of the woman Comrade saying that she considered the attacks on me for taking up her case as a continuation of the abuse she had suffered. There are other women members in the CWI who have been abused and who have not been defended by that organization's leadership. These cases have been hushed up. 

This is damaging for the CWI and for the revolutionary left and for the working class struggle. it also allows the special oppression of women to continue to proceed without being openly opposed by the revolutionary left. This weakens and discredits the revolutionary left. It makes it more difficult to build a united working class movement. Divide and rule is not just based on religion or race but also on gender and the special oppression of women. Leading members and the entire membership of the CWI and all left organizations where this abuse had taken place have a duty to speak out openly. The CWI have well known leading members such as Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy, Shama Sawant, Ruth Coppinger, where are these Comrades when it comes to the abuse in their own organization. Where are they in relation to the abuse in SF. One of the other damaging factors in relation to keeping quiet in ones own organization about these abuses is that this paralyses you in relation to taking them up in other organizations. Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy, Shama Sawant, Ruth Coppinger, and the entire membership of the CWI have a duty to speak out. 

How should cases like Ms. Cahill be handled in a revolutionary left organization which does not believe in working with the state apparatus? It is obviously not acceptable for such cases to be handled by the apparatus of the organization that is being accused of the abuse. I would like to suggest this idea. I would be interested in hearing other views. I would like to suggest the setting up some form of Dewey Commission. This was the commission of highly respected individuals who were brought together in the late 1930's to hear the charges made by Stalinism against Trotsky. This heard evidence and had prosecution and had lawyers and evidence was taken and evaluated. I believe that in any country where cases of abuse are made in revolutionary organizations that such a commission should be set up and evidence heard. There would be respected individuals who could be asked to serve and who would agree to serve.

I can hear people say but what would this do, this commission would not be able to put people in jail etc. The first thing this commission could do would be to bring out the truth. This would be a great weight of the shoulders of the victim. In bringing out the truth this would identify and condemn the perpetrator. Society and especially the working class could decide what should be done to this person. There would be all sorts of possibilities, a complete boycott of this person by society would be one. The working class could also organize to defend the victim against this person if threats were made against her or him. Sean. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola Crisis: More from Texas Nurses

Read RN Brianna Aguirre’s story about Texas Hospital’s handling of Ebola case

Sign the Petition to President Obama

Nurses call for President Obama to protect healthcare workers

Two U.S. RNs are now infected with Ebola. A brave nurse speaks out about what happened when Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan arrived at Texas Presbyterian Hospital outside of Dallas. Read her story here.

RNs are on the march to protect healthcare workers and patients, to tell the healthcare industry: not one more nurse. In West Africa, Ebola is known as the “nurse-killer disease.” We cannot standby and let hospitals and their PR spokespersons pretend everything is OK.

“We’ve been lied to in terms of preparation in the hospitals,” NNU Executive Director RoseAnn  DeMoro told 11,5000 nurses on a conference call this week. “We’ve been essentially ignored by the White House and CDC and they are giving the hospitals far too much credit in assuming they would actually be taking their advice.”

No more.

Will you stand with nurses and tell President Obama: not one more nurse?

This isn’t about finger-pointing, it’s about saving lives. And the best way to prevent panic is preparedness. Yet, the healthcare industry puts their profits ahead of optimal standards for infectious disease prevention and RN and healthcare worker protection.

The only way to adequately confront the Ebola crisis is for President Obama to invoke his executive authority. Sign the nurses’ petition to President Obama here.

Please join National Nurses United – the largest union and professional organization of RNs with 185,000 members -- in asking President Obama to mandate uniform, national standards and protocols that all hospitals must follow to safely protect patients, all healthcare workers, and the public.

Not one more patient, nurse, or healthcare worker should be put at risk due to a lack of health care facility preparedness. The United States should be setting the example on how to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus. Nothing short of your mandate, that optimal safety standards apply, will be acceptable to the nurses of this nation.

Thank you!

National Nurses United
Council of Presidents
Deborah Burger, RN, Jean Ross, RN, and Karen Higgins, RN

Texas nurses issue statement on Ebola crisis

Statement by RN’s at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital as provided to National Nurses United

National Nurses United, 10/15/14
This is an inside story from some registered nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who have familiarity with what occurred at the hospital following the positive Ebola infection of first the late Thomas Eric Duncan and then a registered nurse who cared for him Nina Pham.

The RNs contacted National Nurses United out of frustration with a lack of training and preparation. They are choosing to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

The RNs who have spoken to us from Texas Health Presbyterian are listening in on this call and this is their report based on their experiences and what other nurses are sharing with them. When we have finished with our statement, we will have time for several questions. The nurses will have the opportunity to respond to your questions via email that they will send to us, that we will read to you.
We are not identifying the nurses for their protection, but they work at Texas Health Presbyterian and have knowledge of what occurred at the hospital.

They feel a duty to speak out about the concerns that they say are shared by many in the hospital who are concerned about the protocols that were followed and what they view were confusion and frequently changing policies and protocols that are of concern to them, and to our organization as well.
When Thomas Eric Duncan first came into the hospital, he arrived with an elevated temperature, but was sent home.
On his return visit to the hospital, he was brought in by ambulance under the suspicion from him and family members that he may have Ebola.
Mr. Duncan was left for several hours, not in isolation, in an area where other patients were present.
No one knew what the protocols were or were able to verify what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn and there was no training.
Subsequently a nurse supervisor arrived and demanded that he be moved to an isolation unit– yet faced resistance from other hospital authorities.

Lab specimens from Mr. Duncan were sent through the hospital tube system without being specially sealed and hand delivered. The result is that the entire tube system by which all lab specimens are sent was potentially contaminated.

There was no advance preparedness on what to do with the patient, there was no protocol, there was no system. The nurses were asked to call the Infectious Disease Department.  The Infectious Disease Department did not have clear policies to provide either.

Initial nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan nurses wore a non-impermeable gown front and back, three pairs of gloves, with no taping around wrists, surgical masks, with the option of N-95s, and face shields.  Some supervisors said that even the N-95 masks were not necessary.

The suits they were given still exposed their necks, the part closest to their face and mouth.  They had suits with booties and hoods, three pairs of gloves, no tape.

For their necks, nurses had to use medical tape, that is not impermeable and has permeable seams, to wrap around their necks in order to protect themselves, and had to put on the tape and take it off on their own.

Nurses had to interact with Mr. Duncan with whatever protective equipment was available, at a time when he had copious amounts of diarrhea and vomiting which produces a lot of contagious fluids.
Hospital officials allowed nurses who had interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient care duties, taking care of other patients, even though they had not had the proper personal protective equipment while caring for Mr. Duncan.

Patients who may have been exposed were one day kept in strict isolation units. On the next day were ordered to be transferred out of strict isolation into areas where there were other patients, even those with low-grade fevers who could potentially be contagious.
Were protocols breached? The nurses say there were no protocols.
Some hospital personnel were coming in and out of those isolation areas in the Emergency Department without having worn the proper protective equipment.

CDC officials who are in the hospital and Infectious Disease personnel have not kept hallways clean; they were going back and forth between the Isolation Pod and back into the hallways that were not properly cleaned, even after CDC, infectious control personnel, and doctors who exited into those hallways after being in the isolation pods.

Advance preparation

Advance preparation that had been done by the hospital primarily consisted of emailing us about one optional lecture/seminar on Ebola. There was no mandate for nurses to attend trainings, or what nurses had to do in the event of the arrival of a patient with Ebola-like symptoms.
This is a very large hospital. To be effective, any classes would have to offered repeatedly, covering all times when nurses work; instead this was treated like the hundreds of other seminars that are routinely offered to staff.

There was no advance hands-on training on the use of personal protective equipment for Ebola. No training on what symptoms to look for. No training on what questions to ask.
Even when some trainings did occur, after Mr. Duncan had tested positive for Ebola, they were limited, and they did not include having every nurse in the training practicing the proper way to don and doff, put on and take off, the appropriate personal protective equipment to assure that they would not be infected or spread an infection to anyone else.

Guidelines have now been changed, but it is not clear what version Nina Pham had available.
The hospital later said that their guidelines had changed and that the nurses needed to adhere to them.  What has caused confusion is that the guidelines were constantly changing.  It was later asked which guidelines should we follow? The message to the nurses was it’s up to you.

It is not up to the nurses to be setting the policy, nurses say, in the face of such a virulent disease. They needed to be trained optimally and correctly in how to deal with Ebola and the proper PPE doffing, as well as how to dispose of the waste.

In summary, the nurses state there have been no policies in cleaning or bleaching the premises without housekeeping services. There was no one to pick up hazardous waste as it piled to the ceiling. They did not have access to proper supplies and observed the Infectious Disease Department and CDC themselves violate basic principles of infection control, including cross contaminating between patients. In the end, the nurses strongly feel unsupported, unprepared, lied to, and deserted to handle the situation on their own.

We want our facility to be recognized as a leader in responding to this crisis. We also want to recognize the other nurses as heroes who put their lives on the line for their patients every day when they walk in the door.

National Nurses United Urges You to Take Action Now!

Sign the Petition and Tell President Obama - Protect Our Nurses!

Economics: October is a volatile month

by Michael Roberts

October is the most volatile month in the stock market calendar.  The price of shares in world stock markets rise and fall like a yo yo in October compared to other months.  I don’t know why, but maybe October is when investors realise that their expectations of corporate profits are not going to be met by year-end and they react accordingly.  Anyway, the great stock market crash of 1929 which kicked off the Great Depression of the 1930s started in October. The huge crash in stock prices in 1987 was in October and the crash of October 2007 heralded the ensuing banking meltdown and the Great Recession of 2008-9.

But usually, any October ‘correction’ is followed by a rally from November  to Xmas, the so-called Santa Claus rally.  That’s what happened in 1987.  So what will happen this time?  Well, so far, stock markets have fallen from their peak by 10%.
The media is screaming, but a 10% fall is not really a crash.  On the other hand, there is a big difference between 1987 and 2014.

In 1987, the major economies were experiencing rising profitability in the corporate sector that began in 1982 and global investment and growth was accelerating.  In 2014, it’s different.  Global profitability is static and, as this blog has argued incessantly, global real GDP growth and investment is way below trend – an indicator of a Long Depression.  And the Eurozone and Japan are close to a new recession (see my posts,
Indeed, profits for US top companies, shortly to be announced for the last quarter, are expected to show the weakest growth since 2009.

The world’s major central banks have been pumping credit into their economies by ‘printing’ money like there was no tomorrow.  Only last month Draghi at the ECB announced a new round of credit injections.  But these huge injections have turned out to be just more fictitious capital.  The money has ended up in the banking system and then been used to lend to banks, hedge funds, pension funds, asset managers and corporate treasurers at very low rates and they have speculated with the credit in stocks and bonds.  Thus there has been a huge rally since 2009 in the world’s stock markets and in government bonds, even of those governments with huge debts and no economic recovery like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

None of this credit has reached the so-called ‘real’ economy, or the productive sectors, for investment in new technology and skilled employment.  The money has been hoarded and speculated with. So stock and bond prices have increasingly got out of line with real economic growth based on value created by labour power globally, as this graph of Tobin’s Q, a measure of stock prices against the real stock of capital, shows (i.e. the blue line is well above average, if not as high as in 2000).
This is unsustainable.  Indeed, unlike 1987, this is a bear market for stocks that began back in 2000 (see my post http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/waste-bear-markets-and-fictitious-capital/).  In that post, I pointed out that the huge boom in the stock markets in the last four years is way above even the substantial rise in the mass of profits in many major economies since the trough of 2009.  The return (in corporate earnings) against investing in the stock market rose to highs by late 2011.  But since then it has been falling back as stock prices rose much faster than earnings could keep up.
The graph was done before this October ‘correction’ so the blue line (the return on investing in stocks) has dropped back further.  But there is still plenty of room for further downside.

What has triggered this October crash is the fear among investors that economic growth and profitability is starting to drop and central banks’ injections of credit have stopped propping things up.  Indeed, the US Federal Reserve has an economy that is doing better (a bit) than others and ended its ‘quantitative easing’ this October and has been talking about hiking interest rates some time next year.  So the cheap money ‘gravy train’ appeared to be coming to an end.  This is the contradiction that I raised in another recent post (http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/the-risk-of-another-1937/).

Now it may be that this October stock market ‘correction’ will be reversed by a Santa Claus rally in November, especially if the Fed lets markets know that it will delay its planned rate hike and the ECB decides to extend its credit injections to ‘full’ QE by buying the bonds of distressed Eurozone governments like Italy, Spain or Greece.  But the Germans are vehemently opposed to such ECB bond purchases and the Fed is still looking at its overblown balance sheet and any sign of wage inflation in the US economy.  So neither the Fed nor the ECB may go for any more injections of fictitious capital, especially as they are not working to boost the economy.

The stock markets are rallying today as I write this.  It remains to be seen if this is just a short period of relief or the end of the ‘correction’ and investors recover their nerve and start a new round of bets with our money.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola. Profit addicted US health care system drops the ball.

Nurses target Wall Street.
by Sean O' Torrain

The National Nurses association is showing the way. Its members are telling it as it is. The US sickness industry are addicted to the bottom line - to profit. The privately owned hospitals and pharmaceutical industry are not concerned about peoples health they are concerned about profit. The nurses have being speaking out for a long time about the health industry not being prepared for crises such as that is developing. They have explained that the there is not sufficient protective clothing and there is not enough training.

The authors of this blog believe that the profit motive should be taken out of the health care system. We campaign for the taking of the hospitals and health care facilities and the pharmaceutical industry out of private hands. We believe this industry should be put into public ownership. And that it should be run and managed by elected representatives of all health care workers and patients and working class people in general. At the moment the boards and bodies that run the industry are stacked with representatives of the private for profit sector and its political parties. This must end.

It is obvious to anybody when you think about it that people who are elected by health care workers, including the scientists, and patients and working people in general will take decisions much more in the interest of the majority of the population than the rich capitalists and their politicians who dominate the health care industry today.

This Ebola crisis makes me think of the ads we see for medicine in the media. i have counted up to 8 side affects including some that could be fatal for some of these medicines. On top of this the US population is becoming addicted to prescription drugs. The US health care system has to stop being run for profit.

Along with this the billions, the trillions that are being spent on wars, has to be changed from being spent for this purpose and spent in stead on building decent health care system for peoples worldwide.

US mass media: The Dumbing Down Machine.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

The capitalist economic machine is in a bit of a funk in too many areas to go in to here but it is interesting to think about the language the strategists of capital use in their journals.  They use very different language in the mass consumption papers aimed at the general public, than they do in the serious theoretical journals they produce for their own class. But even these journals are careful to not use language that is too forthright when it comes to certain details.
I have been reading about the concern the US capitalist class has about the global growth slowdown particularly with regard to China and the Eurozone as these are major trading partners for US capitalism. These developments have strengthened the US dollar but that threatens US economic growth as it makes exports more expensive.  Then I read in this Wednesdays Wall Street Journal that oil prices are “plunging” due to the glut exacerbated by the “torrent of new crude that is flooding the market” thanks to the US hydraulic fracturing boom. This in turn threatens global stability wherever that may reside as instability appears to be the norm.  And massive bombing of the Middle East, which has become a US tradition, does not seem to be producing results which is nothing new. What we have here folks is a class based, unplanned system of production in decay.

As I read the reports, it’s clear that the few thousand folks who make the decisions that affect our daily lives are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Huge amounts of money have been pumped in to the economy with little to show for it except massive debt, so that avenue is limited.  The other option is further cuts, but there’s real danger there also. Wages and benefits in the private sector have been decimated over the past period and some 400,000 public sector jobs have been eliminated since the crash.  Social services have also been savaged, but the crisis they are in is forcing them to deepen this assault on workers, the middle class and the poor. The term they use for this is “reforms”.

What do they do?  The bloodletting, to use their own term, has meant, “The public’s willingness to take harsh medicine also has been diminished…” the Wall Street Journal writes.  “Harsh medicine” that’s a very clinical way of putting it.  And no one is ever really “willing” to have the food taken from their table surely.  What they really mean is that patience is running thin.

The statement also reveals something else about the mindset of the 1%.  Unlike those who bow to the almighty power of the class that rules and contemptuously rejects the idea that the US working class will fight back or attempt to resolve the crisis we are facing, the strategists of capital are well aware that major clashes are in the wings as the class conflict becomes more pronounced.  It is their fear of social unrest that holds them back to any extent at all but the crisis of the system forces them to place the US working class on rations as we have said many times in the past. But they don’t like being hemmed in and it’s causing some strain between the bankers and the body politic.

Insecurity and doubt about the future which is the reason workers are cautious about spending their hard earned cash if they have any at all, is the same reason capitalists won’t invest in production.  But insecurity will intensify as will hording as the global crisis deepens.  While capital spending has had its moment’s it’s clear the capitalist class is unsure opportunity will knock in the future as far as profits go as these comments from the Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Report indicate:

“While some U.S. economic indicators are improving moderately, the results from our survey of CEOs seem to reflect an underperforming U.S. economy held back by policy uncertainty and growing conflicts around the world… The U.S. economy continues to perform below its potential.”

The bankers have already done too much one banker tells the WSJ and that has let the politicians off the hook, has allowed them to “avoid making politically tough decisions that would boost growth potential.”. He feels the bankers have done enough and now it’s the politician’s turn.  The decisions he is talking about are structural reforms. Remember, for the wageworker, the term “reform” when the bosses’ use it is not a good one. The politicians need to pass legislation that would encourage investment the bankers say, this would mean lowering corporate tax rates, and any other obstacles to profit making, so other reforms include “overhauls to labor laws and other regulatory changes” the WSJ adds. We know what that language means, weaken or eliminate union or legislated safety laws and any regulations that hinder capital flow and accumulation.  The Journal admits that such laws are hard to “enact quickly” if at all. This is due to the pressure the politician faces from the working class, they are much closer to that pressure than the banker who doesn’t have to get elected every couple of years or so and they are acutely aware that the anger and hatred of the rich resides not very far beneath the surface of US society.  What it lacks most of all is organized expression.

The fear of social unrest as a response to events that are beyond their control is fueling the warmongering and sabre rattling we are hearing and reading about every day in the mass media. The fear of foreign hordes is always a good diversionary tactic; We must put our differences aside and unite to save the homeland, we must all make sacrifices, is the clarion call.

Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican running for US Senate tours the state in fatigues touting his military background.  He warned about Islamic State long before, “….the beheading of two American Journalists captured our attention.” the WSJ states. But why has the beheading of two people “captured our attention?  US allies like the Saudi’s behead people all the time. I’m sure drone warfare has beheaded a few children as well.  Why doesn’t the slaughter of civilians with the assistance of US taxpayer money whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine “capture our attention” in the same way?

Because it’s not reported in the same way.  We all know that surely.

The thousands of US deaths due to lack of health care could capture our attention if the owners of the media wanted it to, but like the alcoholic, better place that in the denial file otherwise people might find need to correct it.  Then there is the homelessness or the many millions who lost homes thanks to the bankers.  We don’t hear too much about the victims of Hurricane Katrina these days as this disaster, far more destructive than the September 11th attacks, was home grown, was market driven.  We don’t see what goes on in the nation’s torture chambers within prison walls.  We are not privy to the goings on in the boardrooms of the major corporations.  The numerous cop shows on TV are always about cops arresting and humiliating poor working class people, demoralized people who have lost hope or lost their way. Yet the biggest thieves wear suits, are well educated, and occupy the boardrooms of the major corporations and the halls of Congress.

Ownership of the mass media by the ruling class is not confined to the US of course.   But when we talk of global capitalism, we are in the belly of the beast here.  There has never been a national mass party of the working class in the US. Organized labor has been tamed over the past 40 years and with the suppression of attempts by some sections of labor to halt the capitalist offensive in the 1980’s with national strikes at Greyhound, the year long Hormel strike, Eastern Airlines and others suffering defeat due primarily to a powerful combination of the bosses’ and the labor hierarchy, we have seen years of declining strike activity.

But the US media is the most tightly controlled and censored of all the advanced capitalist economies.  In all countries, the nation’s history is written by the ruling class; it is their history that is dominant.  The victor writes the history as they say.  But nowhere is it so pronounced and the media so controlled as in the US.

In a recent study conducted by the
European Journal of Communication, that compared media in some countries in Europe with ours here in the US, in particular, a public service media model as opposed to the market model, the authors point out that: “Comparison shows that public service television devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas, than the market model. Public service television also gives greater prominence to news, encourages higher levels of news consumption and contributes to a smaller within-nation gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged.”

There are obviously other factors, American workers spend about two months a year longer at work than workers in most other advanced capitalist economies, the nation is somewhat isolated and apart from other nations for example.  But these findings should come as no surprise to Americans.  The study points out that PBS here in the US which is not really a public service at all (it even has ads now) has less than 2% of the US audience. It finds that in countries like Finland and Denmark the, “core assumption” is that the public must be “adequately exposed” to public affairs programming, “..if they are to cast informed votes, hold government to account and be properly empowered.”
Coverage of US politics in the media is nothing but slagging off the opponents in 30 second sound bites. It’ turns us off by the millions.

Of the US mass media the authors write that US regulation is, “Increasingly light touch.”, and that , “American media is essentially entrepreneurial actors striving to satisfy consumer demand.” And surely after watching the evening news which might open with a thunderstorm that felled trees on a home, four murders and a gang rape and other demoralizing details, we would agree with the study when it claims that the media scene in the US has reached a stage where. “News organizations have increasingly turned to soft journalism exemplified by the rise of local television news programs centered on calamities and accidents”,  just about hits the nail on the head.
These are my thoughts for the day. Until later that is.