2000s >> 2009 >> no-1253-january-2009

Voice From The Back

The Futility Of Reformism

“One result of Ethiopia’s dreadful famine in 1984, when at least 1m starved to death, was the invention of celebrity activism on behalf of the world’s most miserable. Band Aid, then Live Aid, then even more sophisticated networking and the airing of starving children on television helped persuade rich countries’ governments to double aid to Africa as part of a wider set of promises to meet the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals laid out in 2000, the first of which is to ‘eradicate extreme poverty and hunger’ by 2018. Despite progress in setting up early-warning systems, better procurement methods and the rapid delivery of nutrition in the form of foil packets of plumpy nuts, the Horn of Africa has remained a hunger zone. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says the present drought is the worst there since 1984. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is usually slow to press the panic button, says it may be the tragedy of the decade. At least 17.5m people, the agencies reckon, may face starvation.” (Economist, 30 October) This is typical of the futility of a policy of reformism, many well-intentioned people spend an enormous amount of energy and time in trying to patch up capitalism only to find that instead of a million starving to death they now have over 17 million threatened with the same fate. The only way to solve this awful problem is to abolish the system that produces it and bring about world socialism.

The Cost Of War (1)

Many workers in the USA believe that with the election of a new president all their troubles are over, but the realities of capitalism will soon shatter that illusion. The US must compete in the world-wide struggle for markets and raw materials and to do so they need an immense military budget. How immense was recently revealed. “As President-elect Obama plans for his first budget early next year, the Pentagon is asking for a record amount, according to a senior Pentagon official. The official said the Pentagon’s baseline request being sent to the White House will be $524 billion for fiscal 2010, $9 billion more than last year’s $515 billion baseline request.” (CNN.com, 19 November)

The Cost Of War (2)

When governments count the cost of war they use dollars and pounds and figure what strategic gains or losses have been made, but workers have a much more brutal and realistic way of accounting. Here it is. “As of Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, at least 4,200 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight military civilians killed in action. At least 3,392 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers. The AP count is the same as the Defense Department’s tally, last updated Monday at 10 a.m. EDT. The British military has reported 176 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.” (Associated Press, 17 November)

Dole Queue Dictionary

Everyday you can read about the mounting figures of unemployment. This used to be called “getting the sack”, “getting the bullet” or in Scotland getting “your jotters”, but we live in more sophisticated times so they sugarcoat it with terms like “being surplus to requirements” or some such business-speak. We think that Nokia must take the prize though. “Is your firm experiencing a ‘synergy-related headcount restructuring‘? This, probably the most ghastly euphemism yet encountered for mass sacking, has been invented by Nokia. Indeed, so proud of it are they that they repeat it, or different versions of it, nine times in a comparatively short announcement.” (Times, 22 November) As a worker I have been sacked, screwed and sent down the road but “headcount restructuring” sounds even more painful.

A Dog’s Life

Two recent news items illustrate how distorted human values have become inside capitalism. “A wealthy female surgeon has commissioned a £1.4 million kennel for her two Great Danes, next to her second home on the exclusive Lower Mill Estate, near Cirencester. The kennel has a Jacuzzi, a plasma screen TV, thermostatically controlled beds, a £150,000 music system and a security gate with retinal scanner.” (Times, 26 November) “Fears are being raised there could be a jump in the winter death toll. An Age Concern poll of 2,300 people found many over 60s were worried about being able to heat their homes because of soaring energy prices. And with a one of the coldest winters for some years predicted, the charity said the death toll could rise. It comes after figures for England and Wales suggested there was a 7% jump in extra deaths last year despite a relatively mild winter.” (BBC News, 27 November) A pampered life for dogs but no thermostatically controlled beds for shivering old workers, that is how capitalism operates.

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