Archive for the ‘Commodification’ Category

by Michael Roberts

This year’s Historical Materialism conference in London seemed well attended and with younger participants.  HM covers all aspects of radical thought: philosophical, political, cultural, psychological and economic.  But it’s economics that this blog concentrates on and so my account of HM London will be similar.

Actually, there did not seem to be as many economic sessions as in previous years, so let me begin with the ones that I organised!  They were the two book launch sessions: one on the new book, The World in Crisis, edited by Guglielmo Carchedi and myself; and the second on my short book, Marx 200, that elaborates on Marx’s key economics ideas and their relevance in the 21st century, some 200 years after his birth and 150 years since he published Volume One of Capital.

In the session on The World in Crisis, I gave a general account of the various chapters that all aim at providing a global empirical analysis of Marx’s law of profitability, with the work of mostly young authors from Europe, Asia, North and South America (not Africa, unfortunately).

As the preface in the book says: “World in Crisis aims to provide empirical validity to the hypothesis that the cause of recurring and regular economic crises or slumps in output, investment and employment can be found ultimately in Marx’s law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit on capital.”  My power point presentation showed one overall result: that wherever you look at the data globally, there has been a secular fall in the rate of profit on capital; and in several chapters there is evidence that the causal driver of crises under capitalism is a fall in profitability and profits.

In the session, Tony Norfield presented his chapter on derivatives and capital markets.  Tony has just published his powerpoint presentation on his excellent blog site.  Tony traces the origin of the rise of derivatives from the 1990s to the instability of capital markets. Derivatives did not cause the global financial crash in 2008 but by extending the speculative boom in credit in the early 2000s, they helped spread the crash beyond the (more…)

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Pic: Cyprus Mail

by Paul Severin

When an American sociologist conducted a study of Delta Airlines cabin crew in the early 1980s her interviewees were on average 35 years old and 40 percent were married. The contrast to the Ryanair workforce could hardly be greater. The employees are young, inexperienced, mostly single and almost without exception from Southern or Eastern Europe.

The job at Ryanair has little to do with the jet-set aura that once clung to the industry. It’s a precarious occupation because the job hardly enables a person to establish a sustainable existence. Accordingly, the turnover within the workforce is enormous. Those recruited by Ryanair usually work there for a few years, either on a temporary basis or on an Irish employment contract that grants hardly any rights. A regime of repression and fear has so far been able to keep workers submissive.

Ryanair cuts every corner

There is a world of difference between the work of a stewardess in the 1980s and the situation of the cabin crew at Ryanair today. The downgrading of this group of workers is the result of (more…)

by Daphna Whitmore

A substantial report on class privilege in New Zealand has just been published in the Herald. It’s a compelling piece of journalism by Kirsty Johnston with solid evidence of entrenched class divisions in universities, particularly in enrolment in elite courses. The class divide is not narrowing, as Johnston shows with data from six universities.  In law, medicine and engineering 60 percent of students come from the richest third of homes, and only 6 percent from the poorest third. Just one percent came from the poorest schools.

Johnston quotes Auckland University sociology professor Alan France: “We talk about increasing Māori and Pacific participation at university, but actually the underlying issue is socio-economics. It’s money. It’s class. It’s privilege.” Johnston’s report shows university  (more…)

Kim Moody, On New Terrain: how capital reshaped the battleground of class war, Chicago, Haymarket Press, 2017, US$18; reviewed by Guy Miller

On November 8, 1954, US (Republican Party) President Dwight Eisenhower wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. . . their numbers are negligible, and they are stupid.”

On August 3, 2018, the headline on the New York Times front page blared: “The Downside of Apple’s $1 Trillion Valuation: Income Inequality May Grow as Mega-Firms Dominate Economy.”

How we got from November, 1954 to August, 2018 is the story Kim Moody’s book, On New Terrain, tells well, and in great detail.

The Old Terrain

After being discharged from the U.S. Army, I entered the blue-collar work force in late 1967.  My fellow workers and I started with the basic assumption that decent-paying jobs were our birthright.  We also believed that our standard of living would always be on an unending upward trajectory.

Jobs were plentiful. Quit your job during the lunch hour and there was a chance you would have a new one that afternoon. We were a mixed demographic of Vietnam era veterans, young black nationalists,  counter culture youth, and older workers with the victories of the rise of the CIO still  imprinted in our memory banks.

Fifteen-minute coffee breaks routinely stretched to 25 minutes, a half-hour lunch meant 45 minutes away from work.  Assembly line moving too fast?  Simple solution: stop it by any means necessary.  Two-day weekends often ballooned into three days, thanks to the “bridge”, that is, calling off work on Fridays or Mondays.  With or without a union, we called the shots, or at least many of them.  It was almost too good to last, and it didn’t.

Shifting Terrain

As the war in Vietnam began to wind down, the American capitalist class saw itself besieged on several fronts: (more…)

The interview below was conducted with members of the rank-and-file Health Sector Workers Network who belong to the nurses’ union (the NZNO).

Philip Ferguson: What have been the key issues in the nurses’ dispute with the DHBs?

Health Sector Workers Network actvists: They really are two-fold.

There are the issues around safe staffing, which with chronic staff shortages, have seen Nurses, Midwives and HCAs working in dangerously unsafe working environments.  In many worksites, particularly the Emergency Departments and Mental Health facilities, there are daily incidents of verbal and physical abuse and assault of staff.

The ability to give excellent patient care without the need for care rationing will only be possible with more staff and clear patient-staff ratios.

Pay equity is the other important issue that members are passionate about.  The need to have remunerations that reflect skills and responsibilities is essential.  We need staff retention and the ability to attract new people to the profession.  If this doesn’t occur, Nurses, Midwives and HCAs will look elsewhere for better wages and conditions, like jumping the ditch to Australia.  Already nurses are leaving on an almost daily basis, resulting in chronic staff shortages and if these issues aren’t addressed it will only get worse.

PF: How successful has the industrial action been?

HSWN: There have been mixed feelings on the success of the strike action.  Due to this dispute being (more…)

by Don Franks

A just-released Salvation Army-commissioned survey of over 1000 New Zealanders showed 45 per cent of them went without heating last year, due to cost. Doctors’ visits were not made by 44 per cent because they couldn’t afford it. 

Manager for the Salvation Army’s welfare services, Jono Bell, said his first response to the figures was disbelief. 

“But on reflection, I thought, actually the numbers are not too dissimilar from what we are seeing on the frontlines,” Bell said. 

“It’s not just beneficiaries but people in our community who are working are still not making ends meet and are being forced to choose. It is a widespread problem.”  Bell said it was wrong working families were being forced to choose between food, housing and heat. 

“Some of the numbers have serious implications,” he said.

“People can’t heat their homes, so they are getting sick more often, so they have to go to the doctor but can’t afford it.  More medicine is required so they are having to make a choice between medicine and food.  And then there’s the house prices on top of that.”

 In the same week as the Salvation Army survey, an alternative opinion was published in the New Zealand Herald, by one of the economy’s most  (more…)

by Don Franks

“Auckland’s phoney homeless make $100 a day on the streets” is a Herald piece by Amanda Saxton, about a few skid row alcoholics who assemble early each morning to sit together and drink.

A group of apparently lazy, cynical, dishonest parasites, permanently partying, preying on each other and neglectful of their own children. 

“They look homeless, act homeless, and half of them actually are homeless. But Phillip and the group’s kaumātua Sole Johnstone have houses to go home to each evening.”

“Why would we work, slaving 40 hours a week, when we can get $100 a pop sitting here? And I can get drunk at the same time.”

“On a good day, Phillip makes about $100 begging. On an amazing day, $200 – that’s on top of his benefit and his partner’s salary. He says he spends about $100 a day on beer and the odd bit of whiskey”. (more…)