Archive for the ‘capitalist crisis’ Category

A six-part series by Laurence Peterson documenting an example of downward mobility in Post-Meltdown America

Part 4: Characters

Surveying the Costco Avon Habitus

George was a diminutive 70-year-old who was known as “Tweety Bird” for his resemblance to the Disney character and the way he moved, with an outsized bald head and rapid, back-and forth lateral swaying gait. He came in every day, just about, and often twice or more. He employed two greetings, and two greetings only, directed both at old timers and newcomers at CDS: on some days, he’d growl “I’m taking what I want and I don’t give a fuck!”; on others, he would remark that every day was a beautiful day that we should all be grateful for.

Once an advisor had been at CDS for a little while, George would generally stop for a while and regale the chained advisor with the story of his children, both of whom, he claimed, had died in a clinical sense and had been revived thanks to divine intervention. He would then offer the advisor the chance to read a religious tract he promised to bring next visit, an offer which was, in my experience, without exception declined. George would then employ a strictly businesslike demeanour toward the new advisor for a while, defaulting pretty much to observance of the disjunctive greeting solely.

After a while he would chat a bit, but only about the most banal topics, and only very briefly. One exceptionally slow afternoon, I saw George propelling toward me and was so desirous of meaningful human contact that I tried my best to get him to stay and talk to me for a while. But he would have none of it; and as he hustled away I was sorely tempted to shout after him “GEORGE, THERE’S MORE TO LIFE THAN JESUS BRINGING YOUR DAMN KIDS BACK FROM THE DEAD! But I held my fire and retreated into the usual, post-encounter stupor.

Sorrowful post-industrial

He of the Sorrowful Countenance came in regularly, but not nearly as often as George, maybe twice a month. He either walked with a cane and heavy limp, or, much more frequently, used a motor cart provided by Costco for elderly or infirm shoppers, of which there were proportionately very high numbers of in the Avon store. Avon is wedged between Brockton (and the Costco store is just over the Avon border), where I live with my mother (whose family have been here since colonial times), a truly benighted, impoverished and violent post-industrial city whose chief legal industry appears to be storefront churches, all too many of which sport an altogether delusional affiliation with the prosperity gospel (“Winners City Church;” “The Church of God, Inc.”), and Randolph, which is popular as a retirement community; and between the two towns, along with Avon and Stoughton, already mentioned, residents are either too poor to buy much of anything or, in the case of the elderly, too infirm to take much out of the big box store, other than meds: hence the popularity of the chemist’s shop, whose sales (funded largely by government-subsidised Medicare and Medicaid), along with those of the off-licence, pretty much keep the whole store somehow ticking-over. (more…)

A six-part series by Laurence Peterson documenting an example of downward mobility in Post-Meltdown America

Part 3: The CDS Way Continued

More fun and games…

      Once in whatever spot chosen the advisor is pretty much chained within an invisible circle measuring exactly 12 feet in radius for the rest of the shift, and is not allowed to leave the cart itself at all without someone else taking command of the cart unless the advisor maintains constant eye contact with the cart for the duration of the walk. Alternately, one may leave without regard to the former rather annoying restriction (which, in turn, made it extremely difficult to observe the injunction to keep the floor around the demo clean at all times), but only if all prepared samples and raw foodstuffs are cleared off the top of the card and stowed on racks below, and after the cart is turned round to obscure the opening on to the side with the racks. Technically advisors are allowed to close the exhibit off in this manner to visit the loo or to go back to fetch supplies, but Marc’s sometimes savage reaction to such sorties ensured that many advisors were too afraid to undertake them even when in need, and several advisors would chose to wait for their allotted breaks to take care of such things, rather than dealing with them as the situation arose. I actually became quite popular because I began asking other advisors if they needed anything when I had to make an extra journey back for supplies, and I always tried to tread lightly when I got back there to avoid contact with Marc. (more…)

The CDS Way: Otherworldly Boredom, Unanswerable Humiliation, Dumbass Stupidity 

A six-part series by Laurence Peterson documenting an example of downward mobility in Post-Meltdown America

The author discusses the secrets of success in his new position, with a digression on strange alterations in the official American dialect

My main tasks were few: I was to prepare simple product samples on a portable cart, sometimes with the aid of a confection oven or microwave, but usually manually, put them out for Costco members to take at will, and try to induce sales by repeating selling points provided on a prep sheet. I was also responsible for keeping the demonstration kit and area clean and sanitary: simple enough, one might think, but, as we shall see in due course, a far more complicated matter at Costco. For the most part, though, at least on paper, the job seemed decidedly easy on the mind and muscles. As is becoming more and more the case in the contemporary workplace, the real secret of success involves vanishing amounts of hard work in any kind of creative or simply intentional interaction; instead, what has become indispensible is the sheer ability or will to withstand a truly soul-abusive admixture of otherworldly boredom, unanswerable humiliation and sheer, dumbass stupidity. And this whilst providing a service that, all too often provides vanishing amounts of utility to its consumers, even as the surrounding community visibly disintegrates round everyone’s ears. So the effect on the psyche is an altogether different matter. And while the pay, at $11.50 per hour to start, beat the average in a sector notorious for its exploitative practices, it hardly amounted to a rewarding amount, especially when a considerable restriction on hours—never, and I mean NEVER—to exceed thirty hours a week, was constantly in effect, and ensured that potential earnings would never offer enough to maintain an independent existence. (more…)

A six-part series by Laurence Peterson documenting an example of downward mobility in Post-Meltdown America

Part 1. Dumpster Diving for Work

In which the author attempts to fill a new role set for him by bourgeois economists: as a “discouraged worker”

This series provides a sequel to the last one I wrote for this site, which was posted going on two years ago (September, 2015). Since the Spring of 2014, the point at which that narrative broke off, the most pertinent aspect of my working life has come to consist in the fact that what little by way of relevant qualifications that attached me to a conventional workforce then—which seemed to offer at least a still reasonable, if rapidly declining, hope of eventual full-time, year-round employment, a wage that would allow me to live independently, paid health insurance (with large, and growing deductibles and co-payment fees, albeit), and even, maybe, paid days off/holiday—had become completely and perhaps forever severed. As such, I found myself forced to dumpster-dive at job opportunities I would have simply laughed away as a teenager with no tertiary education or professional job experience, all of which I possessed now, some thirty-five years later, but to no effect.  (more…)

by Tony Norfield

Apple Inc is the world’s largest company by market capitalisation, with a value of nearly $800bn on 19 May 2017. It does not produce most of the world’s smart phones, coming in a poor second behind Korea’s Samsung, and it is not that far ahead of China’s Huawei in terms of market share. Neither is it necessarily the biggest player in other consumer electronics markets. But so far it has managed to corner the premium section of these markets, managing to get enough loyalty from customers who will pay a lot more for a product that is not so different from the (much) cheaper ones that are not quite so ‘cool’.

That is principally why Apple, with fewer than 120,000 staff and itself producing very little of the final product that it sells to consumers, can be worth in capitalist markets so much more than Foxconn. Also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, the latter Taiwan-based company is its main assembler, employing more than one million workers, and is currently valued at a relatively minuscule $60bn in terms of market capitalisation. In 2016, Apple’s operating income was $60bn compared to some $4bn at Foxconn, endorsing the market valuation ratio ($800/$60bn).

These points are another sign of the distortion of social value by imperialism, and another day I may write more about the social and economic mechanisms behind this. For now, though, I want to focus on the financial aspects of Apple’s business, mainly using information from its latest annual report.

Most radical, critical commentaries on Apple focus, reasonably enough, on how it uses cheap labour in Asia to boost its profits. What I want to deal with instead are the details in (more…)

by Phil Duncan

Earlier this month the National Party received a $150,000 donation from a company which exports racehorses to Inner Mongolia (that’s the Mongolian region of China).  Later in the month, Labour received a hefty $100,000 donation from retired High Court judge and QC Robert Smellie.

Note how the rate at which the rich were getting richer speeded up under the fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark; it was only stunted by the global financial sector partial meltdown

Heads of companies and high court judges are both part of the ruling class.

The ruling class in New Zealand is a very clever ruling class.  They don’t just have one party; they have two main parties to do their bidding – National and Labour – so that when one is looking a bit mangy and falling out of favour with electors, the other, more refreshed one can take over.

The mechanism for the replacement is an election, thus providing the veneer that this is a democracy.  The ruling class rarely cares about which party is in power, because they – unlike much of the left – understand that both are essentially their servants.

Sometimes, however, they do have a preference.  In 1949, Labour was exhausted and the ruling class plumbed for National, as they did again in 1951.  In 1984, the bulk of the ruling class swung behind Labour.  When that Labour government was exhausted by waging the biggest attack on workers’ rights and living standards since the Depression, the ruling class swung behind National in 1990.  When that National government was looking bedraggled, they swung behind Labour again in 1999.

Currently, they’re happy enough with National, but certainly not hostile to a Labour victory.

And, for their part, the people who run Labour are perfectly aware that they are not a left-wing party, not socialist, not even (more…)

by Jim Creegan

It is now increasingly apparent that the abrupt reversals of the Trump White House, emerging from behind a curtain of court intrigue, signal a major political shift. The white nationalist platform upon which the parvenu real estate mogul was elected in November seems in the process of being scrapped, plank by plank, in favour of a far more conventional rightwing Republican agenda, at home and abroad.

Far too often, Marxist political writing suffers from a conceptual gap. On the one hand, the bourgeois state is said – as a general theoretical proposition – to be an instrument of capitalist class rule. On the other hand, short to medium-term political events are analysed exclusively in terms of the pronouncements and deeds of political actors, momentary combinations, electoral moods etc., without regard to the interface between politics and class. No attempt is made uncover the particular pressures and influences through which the interests of the bourgeoisie are brought to bear.

In cases where politics flow through accustomed channels, the challenge is not daunting. Political parties and institutions are headed by individuals who either come from the ruling class themselves, or who are thoroughly venal and have undergone certain vetting procedures for class loyalty. The task of explanation becomes more difficult, however, when extraordinary convulsions – coups or insurrections in authoritarian regimes, or electoral upsets in democracies – put power in the hands of individuals and groups without long-established ruling class connections, and who may be hostile in important ways to the settled aims and practices of the bourgeoisie.

Hostile takeover?

Donald Trump is a case in point. Although himself a member of the ruling class, he entered the presidential primaries as an (more…)