Videos: Sanhati panel on “Left Movements in Contemporary India” (New York)

Sanhati organized a panel in the Left Forum 2011 on “Left Movements in Contemporary India” (Pace University, New York City, March 18-20). Prominent Marxist activist from India Gautam Navlakha spoke on the Maoist movement. Along with him was Siddhartha Mitra, who spoke on the internally displaced in Khammam. The event was moderated by Deepankar Basu, who teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Deepankar analyzed the contemporary political economy of India which gives a background for understanding the left movements in India.

Book Notice: P Eric Louw’s “Roots of the Pax Americana”

Michael Perelman

Louw, P. Eric. 2010. Roots of the Pax Americana: Decolonization, Development, Democratization and Trade (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

The United States, like Germany, came late to the empire business. It did not aspire to informal Empire, but rather went to great lengths to undermine the existing empires to open them up for US business. Eric Louw tells the story very well.

In his account, the US was going to great lengths to undermine Britain’s Empire, especially India, even when those powers were allies during the Second World War. He attributes Chamberlain’s behavior in Munich to a justifiable fear that dependence on US support in fighting the Nazis posed a greater threat to the empire than the Nazis themselves. He shows that the US made good use of Gandhi in discrediting the British Empire.

Rather than going to the expense and trouble of maintaining a formal Empire, the US preferred finding compliant regimes in important venues. For example, the US could have kept Cuba as a colony, but it got what it needed much more cheaply by keeping friendly governments in place. In contrast, Puerto Rico, which was much smaller, would not pose much trouble as a territory controlled by the US.

The book does not seem to be intended as a radical critique. It does not discuss how this Pax (Pox) Americana proved to be a disaster, leaving people under the rule of Marcos, Mubarak, the Shah, and other such klepocrats and thugs I am anxiously waiting new chapter being written today in the streets of the Middle East.

The Student Loan Debt Abolition Movement in the US

George Caffentzis,
Edu-Factory

Debt has had a crushing impact on the lives of those who must take student loans to finance their university education in the US. For tuition fees that have been so notoriously high in private universities now are rising in public universities so quickly they are far out-pacing inflation. Student loan debt in the US has been much higher than in Europe (with the exception of Sweden), though recent developments there would indicate that this gap may soon no longer exist (Usher).

We should also take into account the fraudulent way in which the loans have been administered by the banks and the vindictiveness with which those who have been unable to pay back have been pursued by collection agents. The most frustrating aspect of student loan debt being the legally toothless position the debtor is in, because government policy has relentlessly vested all the bargaining power in the hands of the creditors.

But however agonizing the situation of the indebted, the debt is growing. As of September 2010 total student loan debt amounted to $850 billion, having just surpassed credit card debt by about $20 billion for the first time. And it is rising at a catastrophic rate, e.g., by 25% in 2009 to meet the rising cost of tuition and other college fees. Even the Great Recession has not put an end to this financial explosion. On the contrary, while credit card debt has leveled off, student borrowing has continued to grow to cover the rising costs of living as well as the tuition fees, especially by unemployed workers who are “going back to school” to get a “better,” or at least some, job in the future.

Logic, therefore, makes the remission and abolition of student loan debt a necessary demand for the university student movement, especially in an era when the need for “an educated work-force” has become an institutional axiom. However, student loan debt abolition (for instance) was not a focus or prominent issue in the student mobilization that peaked last spring, especially in California. This constitutes an impasse for the movement, since meeting after meeting it has become clear that refusing the blackmail of the debt and calling for abolition of tuition fees are pivotal to every form of struggle on our campuses. Students holding three jobs to repay (or avoid) loans or taking as many credits they can fit in their schedules to reduce the length and cost of schooling, can neither be active in campus protests against budget cuts and the commercialization of education nor can they engage in self-education and the creation of “knowledge commons.”

In this contribution to the Edu-factory network’s discussion of debt I think beyond this impasse, asking why an organized debt abolition movement does not exist in the US and what needs to be done to assist its formation.

A first consideration is that the very conditions that would call for mass student protest against indebtedness have so far contributed to preempt this possibility. Even before the time to pay back is upon them, the debt has profound disciplining effect on students, taylorizing their studies and undermining the sociality / and politicization that has traditionally been one of the main benefits of college life (Read).

An even more important consideration is the fact that student loans are constructed so that students do not pay them back while they are students. Student loans are time bombs, constructed to detonate when the debtor is away from the campus and the collectivity college provides is left behind. Once we recognize this we can also see that there is a hard-fought struggle around the student loan debt throughout the US, but (a) it operates in a non-communal, micro-social, serial way, mainly through default; (b) it is a struggle that involves subjects other than students, taking off precisely once students cease to be students, for only after they leave the campus do the debt collectors show up at their doorsteps. In other words, while the visible student movement has not so far made debt abolition its goal another movement with that goal has been growing to a large extent underground. One former student after another is rejecting loan payments through default, but they are not publicly announcing it. “For fiscal year 2008 the default rate increased to 7.2 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in 2007 and 5.2 percent in 2006” after a long period of decline from 1990, when it hit a peak of 22.4%, and 2003, when it hit a trough of 4.5%. (NB: These somewhat misleading statistics are calculated according to “cohort” years. For example, the 2007 cohort default rate is the proportion of federal loan borrowers who began loan repayments between October 2006 and September 2007, and who had defaulted on their loans by the end of September 2008. Therefore, they dramatically underestimate the true default rate) (Lederman).

As typical of “invisible” movements, statistics fail us in drawing its proportions. We have no estimate, for instance, of how many have been driven to suicide or how many have been forced to go into exile due to their student debts. Nor do we have a measure of the social impact of the growing de-legitimation of the student debt machine. We can only speculate about the consequences of disclosures concerning the collusion between the university administrations (especially in the case of “for profit” institutions) and the banks, now commonly acknowledged in the media as well as in congressional investigations. For sure, blogs and web-groups are forming to share experiences and voice anger about student loan companies like the biggest one, the Student Loan Marketing Association (nicknamed “Sallie Mae”). On Google alone, there are about 9,000 entries under the rubric “Sallie Mae Sucks,” and another 9,000 under “Fuck Sallie Mae.” Browsing through the chat rooms, with their harrowing stories of wrecked lives and mounting frustration against the operations of Sallie Mae, makes it clear that the potential for a debt abolition movement is high. So far, however, most attempts that have been made to give an organizational form to this anger have largely demanded the application of consumer protection norms to the management of the debt.

A well-known example is StudentLoanJustice.org (SLJ.org) that systematically compiles testimonials on the subject, organized state-by-state, revealing in graphic detail the dread, disgust, and humiliation indebtedness generates. These testimonies also reveal why, despite their anger and despair, debtors hesitate to join in an open debt abolition movement. As the founder of SLJ.org, Alan Michael Collinge, points out that there are many obstacles to such course of action:

Even now, the barriers to inciting meaningful political action at the grassroots level are daunting, For one thing, facing large –often insurmountable– student debt is a highly personal matter. Many debtors are too embarrassed or humiliated even to tell their immediate family members and close friends about their situation, let alone join in a grassroots effort challenging the injustice of student lending laws.” (Collinge: 93)

The Kantian imperative that debts ought to be repaid cost what may is also weighing on the minds of the debtors despite the fact that the conditions imposed by student loans companies are often fraudulent and generally unfair. As mentioned, many of the developing student debtor organizations refuse to speak of “abolition.” What fuels their indignation is the arbitrariness and arrogance of the creditors’ management of the debt, not the debt itself. As the “content author” of the SallieMaeBeef.com web-site writes:

Allow me to make one thing clear. This site is not for people who chose not to make their payments. Choosing not to pay a debt is one’s own fault. Sallie Mae, like many companies, makes mistakes. I don’t fault them for that. What matters is how they resolve the problems. They did a terrible job resolving the mistakes they made with my account, and I found out that I was far from being the only person suffering because of THEIR mistakes. I also found that they allegedly prey on borrowers, trapping people into paying 2 to 3 times (sometimes significantly more) what they borrowed. There is simply no excuse for it. (www.SallieMaeBeef.com).

The very choice of the term “Beef” in the title of the organization suggests a complaint or a private dispute, not a demand or a public arraignment. SLJ.org, one of the most publicized student loan protest organizations, also rejects both individual or collective refusals to pay– witness what its founder writes of one of SLJ.org’s members, Robert, whose $35,000 debt became $155,000 through the ploys of the financial company which held his debt : “like most SLJ.org members, Robert absolutely agrees that he should pay what he owes, but he simply cannot deal with a debt of this magnitude” (Collinge: 19).

In other words, prominent anti-student loan debtors organizations re-affirm the principle of the student debt. They believe that the safeguards and regulatory oversight that apply to other consumer loans –mortgages, auto loans, and credit card charges–should be applied to student loans as well, which presently is not the case because of the repeated governmental actions taken to block this option.

*In 1998 Congress made the student loan “the only type of loan in US history non-dischargeable in bankruptcy” (Collinge: 14). This means that presently even after filing for bankruptcy and been reduced to the status of a pauper, a debtor is still deemed responsible for payment on student loans, cost what it may, perhaps even facing a charge of fraud and imprisonment, if some politicians have their ways.

*In 1998 all statutes of limitations for the collection of student loan debt were eliminated.

*Since the beginning of the federal student loan program in 1965, the freedom to change lenders in order to find better terms for a loan has been denied.

Once the commodity approach to education is accepted, the political strategy adopted becomes predictable. According to Collinge, “it is imperative that standard consumer protections be returned to student loans” (Collinge: 20). This means, for a start, that student loans should be made dischargeable in bankruptcy, should have a statute of limitations apply to them, and it should be possible to refinance them with other lenders. These are the demands put forward by SLJ.org since its formation in 2005, supported in varying degrees by a number of liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, and Congressmen George Miller and Danny Davis (see the Acknowledgements section of (Collinge: 151)).

Over the last five years this “consumer protections” strategy has produced significant legislative results addressing some of the grievances listed above. These include the passage of three major acts: The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 (that halves the interest rate on federally subsidized loans and cuts lender subsidies and collection fees slightly), The Student Loan Sunshine Act of 2007 (that requires university officials to fully disclose any special arrangements between them and lending companies), and in 2010 the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) (described below). For all these cautious legislative efforts however, SLJ.org and similar organizations have not achieved any of their major objectives. If we add the return to power, as Speaker of the House, of John Boehner, “by far the largest recipient of campaign contributions from student loan interests” (like Sallie Mae) and their most aggressive watchdog, we can conclude that the “consumer protection” approach to student debt has reached its limit. Indeed, when Boehner speaks of repealing the Health Care Bill (whose complete name is the “Health and Education Reconciliation Act”), he certainly alludes also to the education rider hidden in it, as much as to the parts of the bill dealing with health care.

What then are the prospects for the struggle against student loan indebtedness?

Clearly a premise for the rise of an openly organized student loan debt abolition movement is that the organized campus student movement and the student loan debtor movement off the campuses meet. Indeed, they need each other and will be in crisis as long as they remain separated. On the one side, the student movement activists cannot call for the liberation of education without confronting the debt peonage waiting for them and their fellows, and on the other, the student loan debtors movement must go beyond the limits of its stalemated “consumer protections” approach. The sense that a limit has been reached in this regard is indicated by the enormous interest generated in early 2009 by Robert Applebaum’s Keynesian proposal, “Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy,” where he called for the government to forgive government student loans and pay back to banks and finance companies the outstanding private student loans (Applebaum).

The combination of an underground struggle involving millions of loan defaulters, intensified by mass unemployment and cuts in social spending, and the exodus of thousands of debtors fleeing the debt collectors hounding them, just as the campuses are becoming again places of mass, open agitation, has set the stage for a student loan debt abolition movement that Edu-factory network, for one, has been calling for.

It is the possibility of this encounter, I believe, that prompted Congress to pass SAFRA that was signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2010. George Miller, the archetypal East San Francisco Bay liberal, surely had a sense of the political winds that were blowing when he introduced the bill into Congress in July 2009, just as the occupations at the UCAL campuses of Santa Cruz and Berkeley were being planned and a 32% tuition fee increase was being discussed by UCAL’s trustees. But he was certainly looking as well at the rates of defaulting loans and what they expressed in political terms, for I could not otherwise understand why its buffering attempt would take the form of a student loan debt reduction bill, when the student movement on the campuses was not openly calling for it.

SAFRA is full of diversionary and ameliorating moves in the struggle between debtors and creditors that attempt to cushion the impact of the Crisis on student debtors.

(i) it replaces the private institutions with the federal government as the creditor, by halting loan-guarantees to the banks –a major source of interest revenue for the latter at no risk to themselves. The billions of dollars that will be “saved” would be used to increase scholarships for low-income students (Pell grants);

(ii) it provides for a reduction of debt payments, from 15% to 10% of discretionary income;

(iii) it provides for more debtor-friendly “forgiveness” conditions (viz., the debt would be “forgiven” for those working in the “private” sector–if payments were made on time–in 20 years instead of the previous 25 years, and in 10 years for those in “public service,” including teaching and the military).

These more favorable conditions are meant to forestall an increase in default rates–for if the “crisis” continues and unemployment rates remain high, the student debt machine is bound to collapse and will force a “bail out” of student loan debtors similar to Applebaum’s “Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy” proposal. They are also meant to prevent an escalation of student activism on the campuses and above all to keep the two movements divided. Whether SAFRA will succeed in doing this is not something we can foresee at this stage. We can, however, see some steps that appear necessary to build an abolition movement besides the obvious one of bringing both movements together in a national student loan abolition convention.

Building a student loan debt abolition movement also requires that we reframe the question of the debt itself. A first step must be a political house cleaning to dispel the smell of sanctity and rationality surrounding debt repayment regardless of the conditions in which it has been contracted and the ability of the debtor to do so. Most important, however, from the viewpoint of building a movement is to redefine student loans and debts as involving wage and work issues that go to the heart of the power relation between workers and capital. Student debt does not arise from the sphere of consumption (it is not like a credit card loan or even a mortgage). To treat student loans as consumer loans (i.e., deferred payment in exchange for immediate consumption of a desired commodity) is to misrepresent their content, making invisible their class dimension and the potential allies in the struggle against them.

Student debt is a work issue in at least three ways:

  1. Schoolwork is work; it is the source of an enormous amount of new knowledge, wealth and social creativity presumably benefiting “society” but in reality providing a source of capital accumulation. Thus, paying for education is for students paying twice, with their work and with the money they provide.
  2. A certificate, diploma, or degree of some sort is now being posed as indispensable condition for obtaining employment. Thus the decision to take on a debt cannot be treated as an individual choice similar to the choosing to buy a particular brand of soap. Paying for one’s education then is a toll imposed on workers in exchange for the possibility, not even the certainty, of employment. In this sense, it is a collective wage-cut.
  3. Student debt is a work-discipline issue because it represents a way of mortgaging many workers’ future, deciding which jobs and wages they will seek, and their ability to resist exploitation and/or to fight for better conditions (Williams).

The overarching goal of capital with respect to student loan debt is to shift the costs of socially necessary education to the workers themselves at a time when a world market for cognitive labor-power is forming and a tremendous competition is already developing between workers. Employers’ refusal to massively invest in education in the US is not, in fact, a misreading of its class interests as theorists like Michael Hardt maintain (Hardt). It is the result of a clear-cut assessment of the new possibilities opened up by globalization, starting with the harvesting of educated brains as well as muscles from every part of the world. Capital’s strategic use of student loan debts to enforce a harsher work-discipline and force workers to take on more of the cost of their reproduction makes the struggle for debt abolition one that necessarily affects all workers. Accepting the student debt is accepting a class defeat, for it is certainly marks a major set back with respect to the 1970s when education was still largely financed by the state.

Certainly university teachers (like myself and many readers) and our unions and associations must take an active role in the abolition of student loan debt. For we are on the frontline, but in a compromised position, because we must “save the appearances” and pretend that for the university, cultural formation is of the essence, while we know that the student loan money is the source of much of the university’s budget and that the future debt peonage of many of our students “pays” our wages today (Federici). Just as, hopefully, most professors would object to be paid by a university whose revenue was the product of slave labor, so too must we object to having our students pay us at the cost of their post-graduation bondage.

Finally, debt in general is constructed to humiliate and isolate the debtor (Caffentzis). But demands for its abolition can be unifying, because it is everybody’s condition in the working class worldwide. Student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, medical debt: across the world, for decades now, every cut in people’s wages and entitlements has been made in the name of a “debt crisis” of one sort or another. Debt abolition, therefore, can be the ground of political re-composition among workers. If this is the path it takes with respect to student loan debt, the student movement in the US will experience a decisive turning point and opening out to many allies beyond the campus.

Bibliography

Applebaum, Robert (2009). Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy. www.forgivestudentloandebt.com. Accessed December 10, 2010.

Caffentzis, George (2007). Workers Against Debt Slavery and Torture: An Ancient Tale with a Modern Moral. UE Newspaper (July).

Collinge, Alan Michael (2009). The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History–and How We Can Fight Back. Boston: Beacon Press.

Federici, Silvia (2010). Political Work with Women and as Women in the Present Conditions: Interview with Silvia Federici. Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning. Reclamations. Issue 3 (December). http://www.reclamations.org. Accessed on Dec. 10, 2010

Hardt, Michael (2010). US education and the crisis. Liberation (Dec. 2).

Lederman, Doug (2009). Economy Sinks, Default Rates Rise. Inside Higher Education. September 15. http://www.insidehigheredu.com/news. Accessed December 10, 2010.

Read, Jason (2009). University Experience: Neoliberalism Against the Commons. In Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.

Usher, A. (2005). Global Debt Patterns: An International Comparison of Student Loan Burdens and Repayment Conditions. Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.

Williams, Jeffrey (2009). The Pedagogy of Debt. In Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.

Protest Against Operation Green Hunt in New York, August 13 2010

Protest Against the Indian Government’s “Operation Green Hunt”

Where: At the Consulate in New York City (3 East 64th Street)

When: On August 13 at 11 a.m.

Contact: communications [at] sanhati [dot] com

NEW YORK CITY – Sanhati, and other organizations and individuals, are organizing a protest against the Indian government’s insidious war, named “Operation Green Hunt,” which has been unleashed on the inhabitants of the forested regions of East-Central India. The protest will approximately coincide with Indian Independence Day (August 15) to emphasize that the promises of independence have remain largely unfulfilled for a large section of the population, including the tribal peoples.

In its current phase, this war is concentrated primarily in the forested regions of East-Central India, stretching from the states of Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand and West Bengal. This region is home to significant amounts of natural resources.

Big corporations, both Indian and foreign, are plundering these natural resources for quick profits and plan to continue doing so while paying almost no attention to the enormous environmental and human costs inherent in their ventures. The state and central governments continue to welcome these big corporations with open arms by signing an unknown number of memoranda of understanding with them—whose details have been kept secret. A recent report by the Ministry of Rural Development, on the other hand, described these trends as one of the biggest land grabs since the time of Columbus.

Yet these forested areas house not only natural resources. This region is home to a large section of India’s roughly 100 million Adivasis (i.e., the tribal population). Using all means at their disposal, the Adivasis resisted the government’s efforts to forcibly drive them from their ancestral lands. Drawing on the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which is devoted to Adivasi rights and provisions for their protection, Adivasi activists challenged the government’s expropriations.

Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the Adivasis, the Indian government has cracked down on their legitimate protests in violation of the letter and intent of the Indian Constitution. Peaceful resistance movements across this region have been met with police brutality and military might; this forced the arming of a section of the resistance movement. State-assisted vigilante groups like the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and Harmad Bahini in West Bengal were a response of the state to the armed resistance of the Adivasis.

When that failed, Operation Green Hunt—a further escalation and militarization of the State’s response—emerged. Such militarization is facilitated by the Indian government’s military cooperation with the United States and Israel.

Sections of civil society have been urging the central government to stop Operation Green Hunt and begin negotiations with the diverse people’s organizations opposing the looting of natural resources. The response of the government to the idea of dialogue has in general not been encouraging in view of the plans of increased militarization, human rights abuses committed by the security forces, suppression of dissenting voices, and abductions and killings of the leaders of people’s organizations.

In this context, Adivasis in India, and all the people who are with them in this struggle for freedom from exploitation and oppression, need your support. Join us to protest against Operation Green Hunt and the increasing violence of the Indian State on democratic movements on August 13, 2010 at 11 a.m. in front of the Indian Consulate in New York City.

Oppose the biggest land grab since Columbus!

Oppose Operation Green Hunt!

Oppose the war on people!

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Sanhati (www.sanhati.com) is a forum of activists, professionals, workers, academics and intellectuals that stand in solidarity with peoples’ struggles against corporate capital and for the upholding of democratic rights in India. The group strives to be an integral part of the international search for alternatives to the capitalist social order.

Contact: communications [at] sanhati [dot] com

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Background Note

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India Shining, so claimed the BJP-led government. Today, the Congress-led regime might boast that it successfully increased annual economic growth from 5.6% to 8.3% in the last six years, while criticizing the previous BJP-led alliance.

Between the 5.6% and 8.3%, there lurk other stories. About three-quarters of India’s people live on less than Rs. 20 per day, while almost half of the women in India are still illiterate and about 80% of households do not have access to safe drinking water.

Between 1997 and 2006, there lurk other stories. Nearly 170,000 farmers committed suicide by drinking pesticide because they could not keep up with demands to repay their loans. In addition to the agrarian crisis, whatever little access the poor had to common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian government in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, information technology parks, and so forth.

Immeasurable stories such as these are grafted onto the underbelly of neo-liberal economic “development” in India. A recent report, penned by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development, described these trends as the biggest land grab since Columbus. In truth, it wouldn’t be hard to keep citing official statistics revealing not only the shadows within the Shining India myth, but huge pockets of darkness. To be perfectly honest, none of this is new. If there is one image of India that has persisted in the Western media, it is the image of bone-thin, bare-bodied children with swollen bellies, scavenging for food-crumbs in trash-cans next to stray dogs and wild birds.

But something has changed in the last five years.

India, like many other parts of the world, has seen the emergence of a whole spectrum of mass movements challenging the global neo-liberal onslaught in many different ways. These movements are not attempts to “brainwash” the masses by English-spouting city-bred students or intellectuals with romantic dreams of social change. On the contrary, these movements are being led by the very people who have been persistently excluded from reaping the benefits of development and growth – in short, the people who live in the pockets of darkness within the so-called shining India.

The proverbial aam aadmi has spoken. The oppressed of India have shown an unwillingness to stay oppressed for eternity, despite the policy of the government to “kill the poor and not the poverty.” These struggles are primarily about defending their lands, rivers and homes from corrupt officials and swindlers. Moreover, these movements have demonstrated that not only has the government failed to deliver on the promises of the basic rights of the Indian constitution itself, the interests of the most economically disadvantageous people have seriously been compromised by its almost total and unconditional submission to the interests of corporations like Mittal, Vedanta, Tata, Essar, Salim, Jindal, and POSCO.

Instead of improving governance while addressing dissent and discontent in an inclusive way, as be-fitting any democratic government, the Indian government has unleashed severe state violence. The government of India has launched an insidious war nicknamed Operation Green Hunt. While the terror initiated by the government since 2009 is by no means unique in view of the history of the state repression across India (e.g., West Bengal, Orissa, Kashmir, the Northeasten states, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh), Operation Green Hunt is unprecedented both for its array of military force and its media mobilization.

Since last year, more than 100,000 military and paramilitary troops have been sent into Adivasi (i.e., indigenous) areas. Moreover, it was recently announced that 36 battalions of Indian Reserve Forces will be added to the 105 already raised, along with 16,000 more “Special Police Officers” (civilians trained and armed by the government) bringing their total strength to 30,000. Through this new military campaign, which almost brings to mind histories of colonial occupation of land, the military “occupiers” are to gradually spread into one “sanitized” area after another.

Some additional relevant facts:

  • Twenty Warfare Training Schools are being built in India.
  • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently spent $18 billion in the US to buy huge amounts of military supplies and munitions. This included state-of-the-art global positioning systems and night-vision-capable automatic rifles.
  • Drones are being purchased from Israel and the Israeli Mossad is training Indian police as snipers. The aim of the training is to enable assassination of the leaders of diverse mass movements. The recent murder of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) spokesperson Azad, who was also the party’s emissary for negotiations on a ceasefire, clearly reflects one aspect of the government’s modus operandi (i.e., targeted killings).
  • According to numerous reports, dozens of indigenous people are being killed each week in the Adivasi regions.
  • The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has been declared India’s “gravest internal security” threat and has been banned. Bans have also been imposed on other democratic organizations on the claim that they are frontal” organizations of CPI (Maoist) and the witch hunt against these civil rights activists continues unabated.
  • The last few months have seen the arrests of increasing numbers of media personnel, journalists, writers, and intellectuals who have shown the slightest sympathy to people’s struggles in the Adivasi heartland. The discussions within the ranks of the police forces in the state of Chattisgarh as to whether the Booker Prize winning writer Arundhati Roy is to be charged under an “anti-terrorism” law following the publication of her essay Walking With the Comrades is a case in point.
  • The state of Gujarat has joined Operation Green Hunt by alleging that “Maoists” are attempting to expand their networks into Gujarat and in particular the tribal regions of South Gujarat. Several activists have been arrested. This witch-hunt of the Gujarat police amounts to a systematic effort by the state government to suppress all manner of dissension and opposition.
  • Operation Green Hunt includes widespread incidents of rape committed by the security forces. Recently, about 50,000 women tried to march into Jhargram town in West Bengal to protest against these rapes (see photograph above). The marchers included school students in uniform, teachers, housewives and even many elderly women. Widespread rape is a progeny of Operation Green Hunt.
  • The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), one of a number of anti-democratic Acts, continues to give Indian troops immunity from civil legal action and promotes human rights violations. The Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights has aptly observed that this Act is a systematic tool of the Indian government that contributes to terrorizing and dehumanizing civilian populations. This Act also protects security personnel in Kashmir guilty of killing and torturing the people of the valley.




The Indian state, in other words, has declared war on its own people. It has declared war precisely on those sections of the population who have always been at the receiving ends of multiple forms of systemic and institutional oppression. Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of Adivasis facing forcible displacement and dispossession, the Indian government has cracked down on their legitimate protests in flagrant violation of the letter and intent of the Indian Constitution.

Foreseeing the disastrous impact that Operation Green Hunt will have on the common people in those regions, different sections of civil society have called for a dialog between the state and various sections of the resistance, including the CPI (Maoist) and different people’s organizations, involved in struggles in the Adivasi regions. Several attempts to make progress in these efforts failed, with different politicians, bureaucrats and security officers continuously attempting to scuttle negotiations.

A glimmer of hope had risen due to the civil society initiative represented by Swami Agnivesh, with the Union Home Minister and Azad, as spokesperson of CPI(Maoist), responding to him in a letter detailing the suitable conditions under which a dialog might begin. It is reported that Azad was on his way to consult other members of CPI (Maoist) in order to decide future steps for proceeding with this initiative when he was allegedly abducted and killed, thus throwing the possibility of negotiations into disarray. The murder of a spokesperson of a political organization, with which dialog is supposedly being planned at this crucial juncture, raises serious doubts regarding the government commitment to such a dialog.

In this situation, the activists in India need your presence support. Join us to protest against Operation Green Hunt and the increasing violence of the Indian State on democratic movements on August 13, 2010 at 11 a.m. in front of the Indian Consulate in New York City. We have chosen August 13, as this date roughly coincides with Indian Independence Day, when the country became a sovereign nation-state following its colonial occupation by Great Britain. We would, therefore, like to record our protest and remind the public that the promises of the Indian independence have not only remain unfulfilled, but the current Indian government has resorted to military repression to quell democratic dissent in a way uncannily similar to the erstwhile British “overlords.” We invite all in diaspora, the international community of media activists, human rights workers, academics and intellectuals and artists to join us.

America the hungry

Patrick Martin

A front-page report in Sunday’s New York Times, detailing the skyrocketing rise in food stamp use, provides a far different picture of America at the end of 2009 than the complacent assurances of economic “recovery” voiced by Wall Street and the Obama administration.

The Times conducted a statistical analysis of food stamp use by county, in an effort to present a more detailed social portrait of the 36 million people currently on the food stamp rolls. “They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare,” the report noted.

Among the significant findings:

  • In 239 counties, more than a quarter of the population receives food stamps.
  • In more than 750 counties, at least one in three African-Americans receives food stamps.
  • In more than 800 counties, more than one-third of all children depend on food stamps.
  • In 62 counties, food stamp rolls have doubled over the past two years.
  • In 205 counties, food stamp rolls are up by two-thirds.

The geographical dispersal of the mounting social need for food is staggering, from traditional centers of poverty such as rural Appalachia and inner-city urban ghettos to the suburbs built up in the Sunbelt in the last two decades. The map showing the counties where food stamp usage is growing most rapidly includes the affluent Atlanta suburbs, most of the state of Florida, most of Wisconsin, western and northern Ohio, and most of the Mountain West, including large swathes of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho.

While unemployment is the main trigger of rising food stamp usage, the immediate economic cause varies widely, from the collapse of the housing bubble in the southwestern states and Florida, to the collapse of the auto industry in the Great Lakes region, to the layoffs sweeping through white collar America as the recession worsens.

The Times notes the impact on affluent suburban areas, long dominated by the Republican Party, where food stamp usage has more than doubled since the official start of the slump in December 2007, such as Orange County, California and Forsyth County, Georgia. Food stamp use has grown more slowly, in percentage terms, in cities like Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans, but only because so much of their populations were already living in poverty and receiving food assistance when the slump began.

All these figures significantly understate the level of social deprivation. An estimated 18 million people who are eligible for food stamps do not receive them, partly because of institutional barriers like inadequate outreach services, particularly to immigrant communities—the state of California reaches only half of those eligible—and partly because of the social stigma attached to receiving “welfare,” especially in suburban areas where impoverishment has been a sudden and recent event.

According to a study by Thomas A. Hirschl of Cornell University and Mark R. Rank of Washington University in St. Louis, half the children in America will depend on food stamps at some point during their childhood. The figure rises to 90 percent for black children. The study was published this month in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Since it is based on analyzing 29 years of data, the latter study gives a picture of the levels of social need during a period when unemployment averaged well below the 10.2 percent mark hit last month. A protracted period of double-digit unemployment—now widely predicted by business and government economists—will make more and more children dependent on federal aid to meet their basic nutritional needs.

The findings of both these studies confirm the conclusions of a US Department of Agriculture survey released November 16 that found 49 million Americans, including 17 million children, were not consistently getting enough food to eat in 2008. The vast majority of the 17 million families struggling to put food on the table had at least one employed worker in the household, but with wages too low to ensure basic necessities. The level of food insecurity was the highest since the USDA began keeping records in 1995.

These figures demonstrate that for American working people, the social reality today is the worst since the Great Depression. Some 30 million people are unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 50 million lack health insurance. Nearly 50 million have difficulty feeding themselves and their children. Some 40 million live below the official poverty line, and the figure would rise to 80 million if a realistic family budget were used as the yardstick.

Young people face the greatest challenge. According to a Pew Research Center report issued last week, 10 percent of adults under 35 have moved back with their parents due to the recession. More than half of men 18 to 24 were still living with their parents, and 48 percent of young women. The proportion of young people with jobs—46 percent—is the lowest since records began in 1948.

These figures are an indictment of American capitalism and its criminal sabotage of the productive forces of society. How is it possible that in a country whose agriculture is so productive that it can literally feed the world, tens of millions of people struggle to feed their children and themselves? It is because production and distribution take place on the basis of private profit, and feeding hungry children is far less profitable for the ruling elite than speculation in the financial markets.

These figures are also an indictment of the political representatives of big business in the Obama administration and the Democratic and Republican parties. Apparently hunger, like unemployment, is viewed by Obama merely as a “lagging indicator”—something that the American people simple have to endure, but not a crisis, not even a cause to lift a finger.

Having funneled trillions into the financial system, to ensure a return to profitability and seven-figure bonuses on Wall Street, and set his course for military escalation in Afghanistan at the cost of countless billions, Obama is now declaring that his top domestic priority is deficit reduction. After Wall Street and war, there will be little or nothing left over to meet the needs of hungry children—or their parents.

Courtesy: World Socialist Web Site

How can the U.S. Unemployment be solved?

10.2% of Americans are unemployed. Another 5.3% are underemployed. Now President Obama faces criticism that he lost focus on creating and saving jobs.

Courtesy: newsy

How a hotel burnt its fingers

C. Gopinath

In an advertisement on its pages, the US business daily, The Wall Street Journal, proudly proclaimed ‘Hyatt has great news’. The paper was pleased to announce that copies of the paper would henceforth be available for our reading pleasure if we stayed at a Hyatt hotel.

Unfortunately, at about the same time last month, the news about Hyatt was anything but great. The international hotel chain was being accused of treating its cleaning staff unfairly, and the company was doing a poor job defending its actions.

ADDING TO JOBLESSNESS

It all began as a simple decision to outsource. The company decided that, as of end August, it would lay off about 100 of its housekeeping staff from three of its hotels in Boston and give the cleaning contract to a firm in Atlanta, called Hospitality Staffing Solutions. The objective, of course, was to cut costs. Hyatt’s corporate revenues had fallen by about 18 per cent during the first half of the year. Its Boston hotels had also experienced revenue shortfalls, with the recession forcing people to cut back on their travel. So the company, faced with “these unprecedented economic challenges” (in the words of its manager), took the efficient managerial decision of handing over the cleaning contract to an outside firm and laying off its employees.

Early September, the news started leaking out. It turns out that the employees who had been laid off were paid about $15 (Rs 705) an hour while the cleaning contractor’s employees were going to be paid $8 (Rs 376) an hour. That made sense, right? Cutting cleaning costs by almost 50 per cent!

But when you put paper and pencil together, knowing that an employee is expected to clean about 20 rooms in an eight-hour work day, you would quickly figure that Hyatt was looking to save about $3 (Rs 141) per day in cleaning costs for a room that it probably charges its guest about $175 (Rs 8,225) to sleep in. Well, any saving is a saving in these hard times, you would say.

But these were fairly low-level staff, some of whom had been working at the hotel for close to 20 years. At a time when the nation’s unemployment was touching 10 per cent it was not going to be easy for them to find another job. But that wasn’t all. The local paper also reported that these employees had been asked to train some other persons to do their job and were told that those being trained would fill in during vacations. Only later did they realise that they were training their replacement.

SYMPATHY FOR EMPLOYEES

That seemed to touch a raw nerve and the local reaction was swift and bitter. The Governor of the state said he planned to direct state employees to boycott the hotel unless it took the employees back.

A couple of professional groups which were planning to host seminars or conferences at the hotel cancelled plans. Although the laid-off employees were not members of a union, a local union that normally represents hotel workers announced that it would rally in their support and picketed the properties.

The hotel chain was clearly caught off-guard. It first announced that it would help the dismissed workers find other jobs, retrain them if necessary, and extended their health care for three months.

It vehemently denied that the training of the replacements was done secretly. But you must wonder about a company’s well-paid human resources personnel who would think of a scheme as this. Meanwhile, the public indignation spread and even the city taxi union announced a boycott and refused to service the chain’s locations.

Something else started happening. The company announced that the laid-off employees would be offered work with another Hyatt contractor, a Chicago-based firm called United Service Cos. And they will be paid the wage they received at Hyatt till the end of the year.

The contractor was confident that the employees would almost surely be able to find some other job after that. (In other words, quieten down and everything would be forgotten in a few months.)

MISJUDGING PUBLIC MOOD

Clearly, Hyatt was completely missing the point. The company believed that if it found work (at least temporarily) for those who had been laid off, everything would be back to normal.

On the other hand, the public reaction to the cleaning staff being replaced by contract labour at lower wages was only the event on which was riding a whole lot that was perceived as wrong with modern management. Any lay-off, and especially due to outsourcing, is a sore subject, especially at a time when unemployment is rising, even while everyone is claiming that recession is over.

A lot of mid-level management personnel, currently laid off and looking for work in corporate America see their work being given to cheaper personnel, within the company or outside, and can empathise with the Hyatt employees. Yet, corporations that are penny-pinching seem to be able to find enough money to continue to pay lavish top-management salaries and bonuses.

Newspapers crow that productivity is at an all-time high — what that essentially means is that fewer people are being used to produce the same or more output.

There must be something fundamentally wrong with a measure that undermines human capital. On top of it all, when Hyatt (allegedly) made those employees train their replacements, it just seemed morally wrong.

To compound its misfortune, Hyatt’s reluctance to meet with the press to present its side of the story, and its tendency to hide behind corporate press releases did not go down well. Even when the company sensed that its response to the situation was less than exemplary, it did not know how to say it.

Look at this: “Contrary to the way our actions have been characterised by many, we did attempt to implement this staffing change in a respectful manner and many of the assertions that have been made are false. We do, however, recognise and regret that we did not handle all parts of the transition in a way that reflects our organisation’s values.”

And the final irony: Business Week, a US business magazine recognised Hyatt as among “the best places to launch a career” about the same time as the layoffs. Of course, the magazine was referring to entry-level workers in the company’s corporate training programme, not entry level housekeepers.

Courtesy: Business Line

US Economy from a Working Class Perspective

Deepankar Basu

Rising continuously for the last 30 months, the official unemployment rate in the US economy crossed over to double-digit territory in October 2009. According to figures released recently by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the official unemployment rate in the US was 10.2 percent in October 2009; this is the first time in 26 years that the official unemployment rate has crossed 10 percent in the US. But the official measure is a gross underestimation of the reality of joblessness in the US. A more sensible measure, which takes into account the “discouraged” and part-time workers, stood at 17.5 percent!

The November 6, 2009 Fact Sheet from the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank in the US provides more interesting facts about the US economy, especially relevant for working-class people; below I provide some of the entries from the above fact sheet as a summary of important facts about several neglected dimensions of the US economy:

Historical context
• Current unemployment rate (October 2009): 10.2%
• Current underemployment rate, including people who have been unable to find full-time work and are working either
part time or not at all: 17.5%
• Number of consecutive months of job loss during this recession: 22
• Last time the United States saw 10.2% unemployment: April 1983
• Number of months double-digit unemployment lasted during the 1980s recession: 10
• Peak rate of unemployment during the recession in 2001: 5.5%
• Number of months that passed after the 2001 recession had officially ended before unemployment peaked, at 6.3%: 19

Current recession
• Ratio of job seekers to job openings when the current recession began: 1.7 to 1
• Ratio of job seekers to job openings today: 6.3 to 1
• Total number of jobs lost during the current recession: 8.1 million
• Number of people who have been unemployed for more than six months: 5.6 million
• Jobs needed to return to pre-recession employment levels when population growth is factored in: 10.9 million

Demographic data
• Current unemployment rate for black workers: 15.7%
• Current unemployment rate for Hispanic workers: 13.1%
• Current unemployment rate for white workers: 9.5%
• Current unemployment rate for men: 11.4%
• Current unemployment rate for women: 8.8%
• State with the highest unemployment: Michigan, 15.3%
• State with the lowest unemployment: North Dakota, 4.2%
• State showing the largest portion of job loss during this recession: Arizona, 10%
• Unemployment rate among black workers in Michigan: 23.9%
• Unemployment rate among white workers in Michigan: 13.7%
• Unemployment rate for college-educated workers: 4.7%
• Unemployment rate for workers who did not complete high school: 15.5%

Related economic data
• Number of Americans with no health insurance in 2008: 46.3 million
• Number of Americans projected to have no health insurance by 2010: more than 50 million
• Percent of U.S. population living in poverty in 2008: 13.2%
• Percent of U.S. children living in poverty in 2008: 19%
• Percent of African American children living in poverty in 2008: 34.7%
• Portion of African American children expected to be living in poverty in the coming years, as a result of higher unemployment: more than half

Unemployment as a choice

Deepankar Basu

“So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 percent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 percent.”

That was Casey B. Mulligan, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, writing in the New York Times on October 09, 2008 about what he then considered to be a robust economy. The official unemployment rate for the economy that Professor Mulligan was writing about, the U.S. economy, steadily climbed since he shared his wisdom with the world; according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, the official unemployment rate stood at 9.8 percent in September 2009. Despite the best wishes of Professor Mulligan and his colleagues at the University of Chicago, the unemployment rate has decided to move in the opposite direction. According to all sensible estimates, it will cross 10 percent by the end of 2009 and stay close to that figure for the next year. Even this high figure for the official unemployment rate does not capture the true degree of labour under-utilization currently afflicting the U.S. economy. A more comprehensive measure of labour under-utilization that takes account of discouraged workers who have dropped out of the labour force and part-time workers who are searching for full-time employment stands at 17 percent!

What is of course interesting is that the school of macroeconomics popularised by Professor Mulligan’s distinguished colleagues at the University of Chicago and elsewhere known as the Real Business Cycle (RBC) view of macroeconomics does not even recognize existence of unemployment. In case you have missed that, let me state it again: for the RBC view of macroeconomics, unemployment, as we understand that term, is a fiction; it does not exist. So, how does this strand of macroeconomics view the fluctuations of employment that goes with the typical business cycle? Here is the story they tell.

Every worker derives “utility” (don’t ask what that means) both from consumption and leisure. Now, to finance consumption expenditures, she must work because that is how she can earn her wage income. By working, of course, the worker gives up precious leisure and so experiences dis-utility (again, don’t ask what that means or how it can be measured). It is, therefore, the balancing of the extra – marginal in the language of economists – utility derived from the next unit of consumption and the dis-utility associated with giving up that last bit of leisure that determines whether the worker wants to work or not and for how many hours a week (say).

But the worker, as every other agent in the RBC models, are endowed with enormous computing powers; they not only look at the present, they also peer into the depths of the infinite future. It is thus that the balancing of marginal utility and dis-utility takes on an inter-temporal dimension. Depending on the changing incentives to work in different time periods, the worker decides how much labour to supply, i.e., how many hours she wishes to work. The level of employment, and by definition unemployment, is therefore, in the RBC view, driven by changes in the incentives to work; employment is a choice that workers make. There is no unemployment, only equilibrium fluctuation of employment chosen by workers inter-temporally balancing the marginal utility of consumption against the dis-utility of work. According to this view, then, unemployment occurs because workers decide not to take up the offers they get, i.e., when unemployment is observed it is because the workers choose to remain unemployed.

There is a hidden assumption here: enough jobs are available to workers, in the first place, to choose from. What if enough jobs are not available? How will workers then choose from jobs that are not even available? Would it then still be possible to claim that fluctuations in unemployment are merely the result of inter-temporal optimization exercises on the part of workers balancing marginal utility of consumption against the dis-utility of work. Evidently not. So, how would we test whether the RBC view of unemployment is borne out by facts? If unemployment is “chosen” by workers, as the RBC view claims, then the number of job seekers and job openings should not deviate too much from each other and certainly not for prolonged periods of time; if, on the other hand, unemployment is forced on workers by the hiring decisions of capitalists, the the ratio of job seekers to job openings should increase secularly during recessions. What does the evidence in this regard show?

The Chart plots, for the U.S. economy, the ratio of (a) number of job seekers, and (b) the number of job openings. In December 2000, the ratio was close to 1; thus, in December 2000, every worker looking for a job had, on average, a job available. In December 2007, when the Great Recession started, the ratio stood at 1.7, i.e., on average, every job opening had 1.7 job seekers. As the recession progresses, the ratio climbed steadily and by August 2009, it stood at 6.3. Hence, in August 2009, every job opening had, on average, about 6.3 job seekers. Thus, the ratio continually increased for 20 months, and will possibly continue to do so for the next few months. What do you say, isn’t that evidence in support of the RBC view?

Organizing Working Class Communities

Toronto, October 2, 2009 – Steve Williams is co-director of the California based group POWER: People Organized to win Employment Rights, which since the late 1990’s has been one of the most important Worker’s Action Centres in the U.S., and co-authour of the book Towards Land, Work and Power: Charting a Path of Resistance to U.S.-led Imperialism.

Part 1

• Moderated by Stephanie Ross – Prof. Labour Studies, York University.
• Sam Gindin – Visiting Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University.

Organizing Working Class Communities [1/2] from LeftStreamed on Vimeo.

Part 2

• Steve Williams – is co-director of the California based group POWER.

Courtesy: Socialist Project