Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Regina Elsea and her fiance

by The Spark

Regina Elsea was killed last year when the robot she was trying to repair suddenly moved and crushed her. She was working for Ajin USA, a car parts company, earning $8.50 an hour.

Chambers County, where the company was located, offered tax breaks and other financial aid to companies to locate there. Encouraged by such free taxpayer-backed money, car companies, with their high-tech robots and technologies, started to move to the region. People were hired, but most of the wages remained very low. In addition, much of the work was supplied through staffing agencies and was temporary.

Elsea was not an Ajin employee. She was employed through a (more…)

imagesby Michael Roberts

I have written many posts on the level and changes in inequality of wealth and incomes,1 both globally and within countries. There has been a ‘wealth’ of empirical studies showing rising inequality in incomes and wealth in most capitalist economies in the last century.2

There have also been various theoretical explanations provided for this change. The most famous is by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial book, Capital in the 21st century (Harvard 2014). This book won the award for the ‘most bought, least read’ book in 2014, surpassing A brief history of time by scientist Stephen Hawking (London 1989).

I and others have discussed the merits and faults of Piketty’s work extensively.3 Suffice it to say that, although Piketty repeats the title of Marx’s book, published exactly 150 years ago, he dismisses Marx’s analysis of capitalism based on the law of value and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and adopts the mainstream theories of marginal productivity and/or market ‘imperfections’ like ‘rent-seeking’. This leads to the view that capitalism could be ‘reformed’ and inequality reduced by such measures as a global financial tax or progressive inheritance taxes – or more recently a universal basic income (Piketty is now advising French socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon on this).

Inequality remains the buzz word of liberal and leftist debate and analysis,4 not (more…)

unnamedby Don Franks

(dedicated with respect to Pike River miners and their families)

On Mayday, get your old flag out
unwrap each dusty fold
pour the cold beer, find some young ear
to hear your stories told
how we used to put a blue on
downloadhow we boxed the place up tight
saw the scabs off, held the picket line
stood tall through all the shite
just remember while you party on
until the (more…)

images-2by Sarah Black

Art critic, novelist, writer and academic John Berger died last week, aged 90. Amid the media accolades, Suzanne Moore writes an opinion piece for The Guardian entitled ‘I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope’. Though the headline is provocative, Moore’s piece does remember the man as kind, interested and warm.

Berger originally trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art, but stopped painting in the late 40s, as the post-war images-1nuclear threat seemed to him to render his work trivial. Instead he threw his energies into writing. He managed to enrage the art and media establishment by his pro-Soviet stance, as well as his criticism of big figures in the art world, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (whose work he felt further mystified art). Berger wrote extensively throughout his career – not just criticism, but fiction and other non-fiction works. In 1972 he won the Man Booker prize for his novel, G. His 1975 book, The seventh man, focuses on the plight of the urban poor.

Berger’s warmth comes across in his most well-known work,Ways of seeing. Unlike contemporary programmes of the time, this 1972 BBC four-part series of films-turned-essays was not presented by a stuffy old man in an art gallery with a suit and a pipe. Filmed in an electronics workshop, Berger, sporting an Aztec-patterned shirt, talks to the viewers at home in a laid-back, conversational manner – the aesthetics of the production have a dynamism that transcends the very 1970s look. Berger places advertising images next to still lifes and soft porn beside nudes, in order to make the viewer interrogate the image, the artist and the subject. His aim was to demystify western European painting from its holy status (where criticism’s purpose was to help us pray) and instead find a different way of (more…)

tumblr_od5hb3ptq31vftr3oo1_400by The Spark

Following a call for a nationwide strike of prisoners, inmates in at least 29 prisons in 12 states have launched strikes, involving more than 24,000 prisoners. The prisoners are now fighting against awful work conditions in prisons, what they correctly call “modern day slavery.” It is forced labor for little or no pay.

This work is mandatory. If the prisoner refuses to work, he or she can be punished, such as, by solitary confinement or cancellation of visitation rights. Inmates in state and federal prisons do many different types of work, including maintenance, cleaning, kitchen duties, farm work, stuffing shelves in stores and warehouses, and manufacturing license plates, clothing, electronics and army hats, etc.

Some states, including Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia, do not pay inmates for prison labor at all. In other states, the pay to the inmates is usually close to nothing, between 12 and 40 cents an hour.

Some inmates are engaged in work programs, such as the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (known as UNICOR). The Federal Bureau of Prisons runs UNICOR like a company that supplies cheap labor to (more…)

james-connolly-starry-ploughA wonderful extract from the great Irish marxist, mass workers’ leader and insurrectionary James Connolly, executed by British firing squad in 1916:

“. . . This will be the rule of the people at last realised. But, says Father Kane, at last showing the cloven foot, ‘the will of the people would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders’. Spoken like a good Tory and staunch friend of despotism!

“What is the political and social record of the mob in history as against the record of the other classes? There was a time, stretching for more than a thousand years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the governments of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy. That was the blackest period in human history. It was the period during which human life was not regarded as being of as much value as the lives of (more…)

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Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74.  While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil  is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.  In the interview below they talk about growing up in 1950s America, the winds of change of the 1960s, their politicisation and activity in that era, their involvement in the US SWP an how and why they began questioning its politics and organisational methods, how they came to a parting of the ways with it, their subsequent political activity, the decline of the left and the fate of the original new social movements of that era, and their assessment of politics in the United States today.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?  What was it like growing up in the States in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Barbara Gregorich: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother and father worked in my uncle’s bar as bar tenders until I was ten, then my father worked as a millwright in a steel mill and my mother worked at home. One of my uncles had a dairy farm less than half a mile from our house, and I spent much of my time there, with my cousins. I loved being outdoors and helping with milking and other farm chores. After I graduated from high school I attended Kent State University, which was maybe 35 miles away. I graduated with a degree in American Literature and also one in American History. I received an MA degree from the University of Wisconsin, in Literature, and I did post graduate work at Harvard, in the History of American Civilization.

I worked as an Instructor of English at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College while living in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Phil and I moved to Boston and I worked as a typesetter, first for a small job shop, then at the Boston Globe. We moved to Chicago, Illinois, and I worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune, then as a postal letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office. I had always wanted to be either a baseball player or a writer. Baseball is closed to women, so I became a writer. In 1979 I went freelance,  which I’ve been to this day.

download (3)What it was like growing up in the States during the 1950s and 1960s is an interesting question, because of course one doesn’t think, “I’m growing up in the ’50s . . . and now I’ve transitioned to the ’60s!” But a person is definitely aware of the characteristics of the decade he/she grows up in, if not at the moment, then in retrospect, or in contrast to the next decade. Living in the 1950s, I was aware that I didn’t like many things about society. I hated fashion, especially as it applied to girls and women. I hated petticoats and crinolines, the latter “required” for the felted poodle skirts fashion of my junior-high years. I hated popcorn socks and pencil skirts and I refused to put my hair in curlers: torture!

What I wanted to wear was t-shirts and jeans, clothes I could function in. I also wondered why my fellow students flocked to and embraced each fashion that came along.  I can’t say that I was aware of politics when in junior and senior high, but standing in the early 1960s and looking back on the 1950s, I felt that it was a very conservative, unquestioning decade, and I was glad to be out of it.

Compared to the ’50s, the 1960s were a blast a fresh air, with people my age questioning what was right and wrong in society, and acting to make changes.

download (2)Phil Passen: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My father, whose father had been a bricklayer who died from a fall on the job, owned a children’s clothing store in Monroe, Michigan, a small town between Detroit and Toledo. My mother’s parents had died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. I don’t know what their class background was, but I assume skilled workers or lower petty-bourgeois. My parents declared bankruptcy in 1960, and lost the store and our house primarily because of medical expenses for my mom’s various illnesses. I remember that this was the first time I thought about anything political, even though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a political question. But I wondered how medical expenses could be so great that they could cost people something they had worked so very hard for. My father was an Eisenhower Republican, and my mother was a Stevenson Democrat, and none of that made any sense to me.

passncon2I remember a palpable difference between the ’50s and ’60s. At some point early in the ’60s I realized that the stodgy, uninteresting, unexciting coat-and -tie atmosphere of the ’50s was gone — replaced by rock and roll, the Beatles and Stones, Bob Dylan, beats, greasers, art films, and an air of excitement. Hard to explain, but I remember feeling the change very strongly. And in the background, at least for me, but something I was very conscious of, was the Civil Rights Movement. I knew something was different.

Phil F: What made you first begin to question the existing state of things?

Phil P: Unquestionably, (more…)