Sunday, 26 December 2010

MALAYSIA: POLITICAL PARTIES GEAR UP FOR GENERAL ELECTION



REAL SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE NEEDED

All political parties are gearing up for the next general election which is widely expected in the middle of 2011. It looks like the state of the country's economy and its impact on social conditions will be the determinant of the winner - whether the Barisan Nasional (BN or National Front) can hold power or whether the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition can end the 53 years rule of BN. Over the last two and a half years since the last election, people have not been able to differentiate much between the politics of these parties. Nor are they convinced how their MP or State Assemblyman can enhance their living standards and their rights that they promised in 2008.

Most of the social and democratic issues that angered the ordinary people in 2008, that caused big losses for BN, remain. The Pakatan could not come out with convincing solutions and alternatives other than blaming the BN federal government. Meanwhile the BN manicured by adopting some of Pakatan's agenda in the name of reforming the economy and government administration. Nevertheless, at this stage BN has the advantage to retain power with its '3Ms' (Money, Machinery, Media). But it is expected that Pakatan would go all out to try and match them, especially in the states that are ruled by them, as shown by the Hulu Selangor by-election, where they used the state machinery to counter the '3M' might of BN and only narrowly lost.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

CUBA: THREAT OF CAPITALIST RESTORATION



NEW PRO-CAPITALIST MEASURES INTRODUCED BY RAUL CASTRO

In September 2010 the Cuban government announced a series of economic "modernisations". Among the most significant of these was the proposal to slash 500,000 jobs in the state sector by March 2011 as a first step to reducing employment by 1 million. Licenses are to be issued by the state to allow the creation of self-employed persons ("cuentapropistas") with the legal right to employ other employees, not just family members.

These measures are the governments' response to a worsening economic situation which has gripped the country, resulting in worsening living standards, food shortages and a deteriorating quality of life for the mass of the population. The "reforms" have opened a discussion within Cuba and amongst socialists internationally about the future of Cuba and the planned economy – which although weakened by bureaucratic measures at the moment remains largely intact - and the prospect of capitalist restoration. Such a development, should it take place, would represent a set back for workers and the labour movement world wide. It would undoubtedly be used by the capitalist class internationally, and especially in Latin America, to discredit the idea of "socialism" and propagate the idea that capitalism is the only viable social system.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

IS “HUMAN NATURE” A BARRIER TO SOCIALISM?




Aren't people motivated by money? Wouldn't socialism stifle hard work and innovation?
The world is a mess. War, poverty, and oppression are now part of the daily lives of billions round the globe. Even during the last boom 80% of the world's population – 5.4 billion people – lived on less than $10 a day. Now that the world is in the midst of this crisis even the head of the World Bank has said it will result in "a human and developmental calamity… the number of chronically hungry people is expected to climb over 1 billion this year". The wars in the middle east, enviromental destruction and worsening economic turmoil are only the most recent striking examples of the crises facing humanity.

Friday, 20 August 2010

MALAYSIA: THREE DAY PROTEST BY MORE THAN 5000 MIGRANT WORKERS



EMPLOYERS BOW DOWN TO THEIR DEMANDS

More than 5,000 migrant workers of JCY Co. Ltd., an electronics factory in the Tebrau Industrial area of Johor Baru, protested near the workers' quarters over the negligence of their employer when a fellow Nepalese worker died of high fever while at work. This happened on 16th August when the employer did not allow him to be taken to hospital in time. It is also reported that another Nepalese worker also died on 4th August due to lack of timely treatment.
Migrant workers from Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India had united to register their strong protest over the death of their colleague in that factory. The workers had also highlighted the mistreatment by management, including low wages and no provision of healthcare facilities in the factory, which employs around 8,000 workers. About 200 Police and Federal Reserve Unit personnel were called by management to control the enraged workers. The determined workers put forward a four-point programme of demands, including a salary hike, in order to pressurise management into negotiating, as well as demanding that the Nepalese embassy intervene.

The three days protest ended in a victory for the workers. Management agreed to pay compensation of 10,000 Ringgit to the dead worker's family; increase the minimum monthly salary from 428 to 546 Ringgit; provide an ambulance service for emergency cases and on time treatment at a clinic on the factory premises.
The struggle revealed that when workers are united they can win their demands, even though the employers attempt to use differences in race, country and religion to 'divide and conquer' workers. Recently, more and more migrant workers in Malaysia have bravely entered into struggle to fight for their rights.

This case of exploitation of migrant workers is only the tip of the iceberg in Malaysia. Most of the more than 3 million migrant workers (almost 10% of the Malaysian population) earn very low wages, work long hours and live and work in appalling conditions. According to the Nepalese embassy, during 2009 a total of 183 Nepalese workers in Malaysia lost their lives, and another 81 workers in the first six months of this year, mainly through illness and suicides. There are also many cases of deaths due to industrial accidents involving migrant workers.
In the meantime, the employers are using low wage migrant workers as a 'threat' to discourage local workers from demanding high wages. The weak trade unions, with a right-wing reactionary and bureaucratic leadership, are not capable of playing a role in leading common struggles between local and migrant workers. At the same time, almost 90 percent of workers are not unionized, and the government's pro-employer labour and trade union law further undermines the rights of workers.

Although local workers are given a slightly better deal in wages, when compared to the high inflation rate their salary is not sufficient to manage their living expenses. Many are doing two jobs to meet their needs, and many even end up in the hands of loan sharks when they see no other way out. Based on recent government survey, there are as many as 1.3 million workers or 34 percent of total workforce earned less than 700 Ringgit a month - below the poverty line of 720 Ringgit per month.
The multinationals, as well as the national capitalists, have been establishing their companies and factories in Malaysia to enlarge their profits. They do not care whether they employ local or foreign workers, as long as they can suck out the labour of workers to maximize their profits. Only workers can lend support to other workers for a common class struggle to liberate themselves from the viciousness of capitalism. An effort to build fighting trade unions, as well as a mass workers' party, is crucial towards achieving a society based on needs and genuine democracy without exploitation that is a socialist society.

 

Monday, 16 August 2010

PAKISTAN: THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF DEVASTATING FLOODS



SMALL FARMERS AND PEASANTS TO SUFFER THE MOST

The full economic costs of the devastation caused by the floods- the worst in many years- in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, South Punjab, parts of Baluchistan and Sindh, will not be known for some time. But they are likely to be substantial, both for the people affected by the deluge and for Pakistan's cash-starved government.
Former federal Finance Minister, Dr Salman Shah, estimates that costs of rehabilitation of the flood-affected population and reconstruction of damaged infrastructure in different parts of the country could be in the range of $ 4 - 5 billion. Another economist put the figure between $ 3.5 and 4 billion. These losses are enormous when seen in the context of cumulative damages of about $ 6.5 billion in 14 floods since 1956.

According to another former Finance Minister and ex senior Vice President of the World Bank, Shahid Javid Burki, "we should get ready for another poor year for the economy, in the terms of the rate of the growth in the national product, pace of job creation and inter-personal and inter-regional income distribution. The government's prediction that GDP in 2010-11 would increase by 4.1% now seems extremely optimistic. Given some of the shocks the economy has received in last few days, it appears that the national product will not increase by more than 2.5 to 2.8% this year. This will be about the same as the revised rate of growth in 2009-10. If that came about, Pakistan's current economic expansion will be less than one half that of Bangladesh and one third that of India. Pakistan today is South Asia's "sickest" economy and will remain that way unless the policy makers move decisively".
The information minister of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Mian, Iftikhar Hussain, told reporters that "the infrastructure of this province was already destroyed by terrorism. Whatever was left was finished off by these floods". This is also the case with South Punjab. It will take years for economy to come out this pathetic state. According to the UN, "the emergency phase will require hundreds of millions of dollars and the recovery and reconstruction part will require billions of dollars". The government is looking for foreign aid and external help to overcome the present crisis, but the experience of Friends of Pakistan shows that an inflow of money from richer nations will not come so easily. If the government continues to depend mainly on foreign aid and assistance for the relief work, then the situation will become worst. Already affected people will be left to their own devices, to survive in the impossibly difficult situation. After this natural calamity, a man made crisis will unfold.

Agriculture hit the hardest
According to the spokesman of the World Food Programme, Amjad Jamal, "At least 1.4 million acres of crops were destroyed in Punjab. Many more crops were destroyed in North West and Sindh. The flooding has caused massive damage to crops and also to the reserves that people had in their houses. Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa was a 'food insecure' province even before the floods, and now in a lot of areas, people can't afford even one meal a day".

If we include the figures of Sindh and Khyber province, the total goes up to more than 2 million acres. This is massive damage. Sugar cane, rice and cotton crops have been badly damaged. Agriculture experts are saying that farm production in Pakistan, Asia's third-largest grower of wheat and the fourth biggest producer of cotton, may decline by 20 to 30% because of this damage. The losses to agriculture and livestock would have a spill over effect on industry and commercial activities to a great extent. This is because agriculture continues to play a central role in the national economy. Accounting for over 21% of GDP, agriculture remains by far the largest employer, engaging 45% of the country's labour force.
Damages, on the one hand, are likely to affect raw material supplies to the downstream industry that contributes to the export sector and, on the other hand, reduce the demand for industrial products like fertilizers, tractors, pesticides and other agriculture implements. And all this comes at a time when agricultural productivity has been falling over the years.

Since the flooding has been widespread, the damages to cotton crops may not be verifiable at this stage. Cotton, being a non-food cash crop, contributes significantly to foreign exchange earnings. It accounts for 8.6% of the value of agriculture and about 1.8% of GDP.
Likewise, sugar cane is a major crop, which is an essential item for industries like sugar mills, chipboard and paper. Its share in the value of agriculture and GDP is 3.6% and 0.8% respectively. Another cash crop, rice, is one of the main export items. It accounts for 6.4% of agriculture and 1.4% of GDP. High quality rice serves domestic demand and earns $2billion in exports every year.
Mostly small cities and towns surrounded by the villages have been affected. The big chunk of the economies of these cities and towns depend on the rural population. The rural population depends on agriculture for its economic survival. There are hardly any big industries in the affected areas. There are small industries which are also agricultural based and depend on agriculture for raw material. The economy of South Punjab largely depends on Cotton and wheat crops and mango orchards. The rural economy of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa depends mostly on wheat and maize crops and also produces a large quantity of high quality fruits and vegetables. The vegetables have completely been wiped out and big damage done to the fruit orchards. The standing waters in the orchards are causing further damage to them.

The canal irrigation system has also been affected and water for irrigation might not be available to the farmers in many areas for the next crop.
Small farmers and peasants to suffer the most

The affected areas of South Punjab and Sindh are dominated by the feudal lords, who own more than 80% of the irrigated land. Small farmers and peasants make up the majority in the population. Some work as daily wage labourers in the nearby cities and towns. A majority of the workers either work as public sector workers or are employed in the agriculture-related small industries.
The small farmers and peasants will suffer the most from this disaster as feudal lords and big farmers will transfer the burden of disaster onto the shoulders of peasants and poor farmers. Feudal lords and big farmers have shifted their families to safe places in the cities but peasants and small farmers are suffering and facing the miseries of life because they have no means to move out of the affected areas. They have no place to go and are forced to live under the open skies. Poor people have been left with nothing and at the mercy of the state machinery for rescue and relief. They have lost their livelihoods and shelter. Now, the real problem will start for them when authorities start to the pay compensation and reconstruction money. They will be asked to provide ownership documents to get compensation for their destroyed homes and livelihoods which they can not provide because these lands belong to the feudal lords. These peasants have been working and living on those lands for generations but they do not own the lands. The destruction of crops means that they will be left without any food reserves or money for months to come. The government will offer cheap loans and other facilities to the feudal lords and big farmers, but nothing will be offered to poor peasants and small farmers. They will be left at the mercy of private money lenders and feudal lords to be fully exploited. These private money lenders and feudal lords will offer loans to these peasants and small farmers at very high interest rates. These peasants will be forced to work like slaves for feudal lords just for few thousand rupees. This disaster will further impoverish the hundreds of thousands of already extremely poor peasants and farmers.

Millions of peasants, agricultural workers and small farmers are suffering because capitalist class in Pakistan failed to eradicate feudalism and big land holdings in the country. No serious effort has been made to abolish landlordism and carry through progressive land reforms. Instead respective military and civilian governments have tried to strengthen the decaying feudal and tribal system. The eradication of feudalism and capitalism would bring millions of people out of the trap of this poverty, hunger and slavery-like situation.
Joint struggle of workers and peasants, rural and urban poor is needed to overthrow the decaying capitalist and feudal system and to replace it with the only just system: Socialism. Socialism is a system which bases itself on the needs of the people and not on profits. This system works for the millions and not for the millionaires and super rich.

Socialism is a system free of exploitation, repression and wars.
Our demands
  • End feudalism and big landlordism; introduce land reforms and equal distribution of land.
  • Compensation to all the affected without any discrimination on the basis of legal formalities, property rights etc.
  • No surveys and verifications through the corrupt state officials, all this work must be done through local elected committees.
  • Provide free seeds, electricity, fertilizers and other utilities to poor farmers and peasants.
  • Relief and rehabilitation through the workers and peasants committees.
  • Reduce the prices of vegetables, fruits and other food items.

     
Khalid Bhatti and Rukhsana Manzoor,
Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURCP) and
Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI in Pakistan)

 

Friday, 30 July 2010

CWI: SPREADING SOCIALIST IDEAS AROUND THE GLOBE



CAPITALIST CRISIS LEADS TO RENEWED INTEREST IN CWI'S SOCIALIST IDEAS AND CAMPAIGNING

The final session of the very successful CWI summer school in Belgium, held last week, with over 400 in attendence, discussed building CWI sections in a period of global economic and political crisis.
The session began with a video montage of recent protest movements, on all continents, at which the CWI were either organisers or had active participants. Niall Mulholland, from the International Secretariat of the CWI, then introduced the discussion, summing up the experiences of the various CWI sections over the past year; the breakthroughs but also the challenges faced.
Most CWI sections have recorded growth in their numbers over the past year. Despite the scale of the crisis and the clear need for a political alternative for workers, Niall pointed out that it would be a mistake to make an automatic link between the onset of a recession and working people and youth responding with an immediate drawing of radical socialist conclusions. Political consciousness tends to lag behind events, in general. The past period of dominant neo-liberal ideology, the practical obstacles of a right wing trade union leadership and an absence of a mass left political alternative – all serve to hold back a more militant active response from workers and youth. That said, events are clearly pushing many youth and workers into opposing this system and there exists a growing radicalised layer that are looking to the ideas of socialism and the CWI.

Monday, 28 June 2010

G20: FROM STIMULUS TO AUSTERITY AT DIZZYING SPEED


The G20 meeting in Toronto of the leaders of the main capitalist governments of the world demonstrated a complete incapacity to solve the huge problems that confront us, particularly those hardest-hit – the poor and the working class – by the economic crisis.

This was supposed to be the economic summit that would 'celebrate' the so-called economic stimulus packages introduced by capitalist governments throughout the world, which 'saved' capitalism from a 'depression'. Instead, in a dizzying switch over a matter of months, the prevailing view at this meeting was in favour of those governments such as Britain's 'ConDem' coalition, led by David Cameron, that are savagely cutting public expenditure.

The summit papered over the cracks – in effect glaring divisions – between the Barack Obama government in the US and its supporters on one side and the European capitalists on the other. Thirty million people are unemployed in the US and whole states are collapsing under the burden of debt; Obama requires not cuts but a new stimulus package to prevent defeat in the mid-term elections in November. But the US Congress is against this and has turned down further stimulus.

The budget-slashers of Europe threaten to compound the problems of the US and world capitalism by their actions. Foremost, of course, amongst this group is the British government.

The full horror of the proposed cuts and their implications are only just dawning on commentators. William Keegan wrote in the Observer (27 June): "The old Soviets used to indulge in five-year production plans; the Cameron/Osborne Tories believe in five-year reduction plans".

The miserly growth rate of Britain, Europe and indeed world capitalism, if it can be called 'growth', threatens to lengthen the queues of unemployed. It will not make up for the damage which has been inflicted already. Growth in Britain is expected to be just 1.25% this year after a fall of almost 5% in 2009.

When the government and capitalist economists talk about recovery', they are only talking about a 'technical' recovery. There is no new 'growth phase' for either British or world capitalism. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been forced once more to scale down their forecasts for growth in the world economy this year. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF managing director, has pointed out that growth at 2.5% below what was first predicted as 'possible', means that '60 million jobs' will not be created this year.

Keynesian capitalist economists are in despair. Their views seemed to be in the ascendant in the immediate aftermath of the crisis breaking in 2007-08. Now, terrified by the implications of huge deficits, European capitalism, at least, has moved in the opposite direction towards 'austerity' stretching into the indefinite future.

Keynesianism means, in effect, priming the pump, boosting economic expenditure through the state as a means of preventing further economic collapse. The dilemma arising from this is 'who pays?' If it is the working class through increased taxes, it cuts the market. If it is the capitalists through increased taxes or other measures, it would threaten a strike of capital, the withdrawal of investment, closure of factories and a big rise in unemployment. If there is a resort to the printing press not backed up by production of goods and services, it will ultimately result in inflation.

But the method now of savage cuts is a case of the 'cure being worse than the disease'. The economist Joseph Stiglitz is scathing about the new 'age of austerity': "It's not just pre-Keynesian, it's Hooverite" (the Independent, 27.6.10). Herbert Hoover was the president of the US at the time of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. "Hoover had this idea that, whenever you go into recession, deficits grow, so he decided to go for cuts". The result was the 1930s' Great Depression. Hoover received this advice from his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon: "Liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate ... purge the rottenness out of the system".

This has been underlined by the brutal austerity measures of Chancellor George Osborne, backed up by the rapidly discredited Liberal Democrats. This government, in its callous attacks, shows all that historic cold cruelty of the British capitalists. The Observer estimates that there has been a halving of support for the Lib Dems in less than two months.

Indeed, throughout Europe, from Angela Merkel in Germany to George Papandreou in Greece, where they have engaged on the road of austerity, capitalist governments have seen their popularity crash. In the case of Merkel, she has almost been reduced to a figure of fun in the German capitalist press.

The British government's austerity programme promises, in effect, a one-third reduction in all government departments with the exception of international development and health, which the government claims are 'ring-fenced' from cuts, and education and defence which are cut less. This means a cut in state expenditure on the scale of the Geddes report of 1922, whose implementation led directly to the general strike in 1926. However, before it reaches the target of one-third cuts, the government will be overwhelmed by a tsunami of opposition.

The idea that the private sector can take up the slack of these cuts is totally wrong. The day after the end of the G20, the Independent reported: "British manufacturing will slide to a woeful 20th position in the world competitiveness rankings over the next five years". Even US manufacturing is set to fall from fourth to fifth as it is overtaken by Brazil. In fact, Obama's failure to impose his agenda on the G20 is a sign of US capitalism's weakness – although its economy is still the most powerful in the world.

At the moment, the UK is the seventh largest manufacturing sector in the world, led by the pharmaceuticals, food and the aerospace and defence sectors. It still accounts for 14% of UK gross domestic product (GDP) compared to just 7% for financial services. But the share of manufacturing in total GDP has dropped from 20% a decade ago. Nothing the government has done can restore this position. Indeed, millions of jobs in the private sector are dependent on the public sector and they will be hit as the cuts bite.

The situation is so serious now the budget-slashers are installed in power that most capitalist economists predict a 'double-dip' recession. In effect, the world economy stands on the edge of deflation because of the measures taken. China will not show a way out of the crisis, as hoped for by Obama and the European capitalists. Obama has been pressing China for a revaluation of its currency to make Chinese exports more expensive, providing opportunities for the US and other economists to 'grow' their exports. But following China's decision to allow some flexibility in its exchange rate, its currency has 'appreciated' by just 0.4% against the dollar in the last week!

To add insult to injury, all these cuts will not improve the position of the economies on which they will be inflicted. The governor of the Bank of England in the 1920s and 1930s, Montagu Norman, imposed the Gold Standard on the economy. Later on he acknowledged: "As I look back, it now seems that, with all the thought and work and good intentions, which we provided, we achieved absolutely nothing… Nothing that I did, and very little that [others] did, internationally produced any good effect — or indeed any effect at all except that we collected money from a lot of poor devils and gave it over to the four winds".

The working class are the poor devils who will suffer. What this demonstrates is that capitalism is a blind system with the likes of Osborne 'flying blind'. Their sole purpose is to 'satisfy the markets', a handful of bond traders, speculators and capitalists who have no other interest than to increase their share of the loot.

The demonstration of bankruptcy in Toronto must be taken by the working class in the US, Europe and worldwide as a signal to begin an offensive to confront the capitalists and their system now. We must start in Britain with a mass campaign to resist every single cut – what is at stake here is the very existence of the welfare state whose gains were conquered by successive generations of the working class. If the national trade union leaders are not prepared to lead, then a movement must come from below.

This was the call from the tremendous National Shop Stewards Network conference held in London last Saturday. We must implement the call made there for the trade unions to organise a national demonstration at the TUC conference in September and if this does not move the summits of the movement then action must be organised from below. Capitalism shows no way out; a fighting, militant, combative approach is necessary in day-to-day struggles of the working class, above all on the cuts, linked to the idea of the socialist transformation of society.

Editorial from the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The human cost of an iPad


Workers' suicides: The human cost of an iPad

Twelve workers have committed suicide so far this year at the factory that makes Apple iPads. Four others survived, gravely injured, and 20 were stopped from killing themselves by the company. All the dead were between 18 and 24 years old.

Foxconn - the city-sized factory in the Shenzhen free trade zone, southern China - employs 400,000 mainly migrant workers. They work 70 hours a week for about 50 cents an hour under a military-style administration and harsh working conditions.

Foxconn also supply Dell, Hewlett Packard and Sony and is one of the largest producers of computers and consumer electronics in the world.

One worker said: "We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure. We finish one step in every seven seconds, which requires us to concentrate and keep working and working. We work faster even than the machines.

"Every shift (ten hours), we finish 4,000 Dell computers, all the while standing up. We can accomplish these assignments through collective effort, but many of us feel worn out."

A week ago an undercover team infiltrated the plant. They told the Daily Telegraph: "Hundreds of people work in the workshops but they are not allowed to talk to each other. If you talk you get a black mark in your record and you get shouted at by your manager. You can also be fined."

The company are constructing nets around the seven storey dormitories from which workers have been jumping. They have also hired 70 psychologists and brought in Buddhist monks.

Sweatshop

Terry Gou, the Taiwanese billionaire chairman of Foxconn's parent company Hon Hai, had toured the plant with journalists only hours before the latest death. "This is not a sweatshop", he told them.

Apple's sales were £30 billion last year. The company's audit of its own "supplier responsibility codes" shows that 102 facilities flouted the "rigorous rules" on working hours, 39% broke rules on workplace injury prevention and 30% broke guidelines on toxic waste disposal. There were also violations on child labour and falsified records. Will Apple cancel these contracts? I wouldn't hold your breath.

The modern, high tech, trendy image of Apple has proved to be a veil behind which hundreds of thousands of workers are brutally exploited in barbaric conditions.

Chinese workers need independent, democratic, campaigning trade unions to fight for decent pay and conditions and for an end to the tyranny of these workplace prisons.

John Sharpe, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales)


 

Thursday, 3 June 2010

PEACE ACTIVISTS MURDERED BY REACTIONARY ISRAELI ARMY


BUILD A MASS MOVEMENT TO BREAK THE SANCTIONS ON GAZA!

The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in Lebanon, and internationally, offers sincerest condolences to family and friends of the activists murdered by the reactionary Israeli army while on a humanitarian aid mission. We salute the courage of all those activists, who organized this aid intervention, and we demand a safe passage through to Gaza for the 750 people from 40 different countries intent on breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

The boats that the Israeli soldiers attacked were carrying food, medicines, and materials to build prefabricated homes for the people of Gaza. One and a half million Palestinians remain prisoners of the largest open-air jail on earth, since Israel's siege on Gaza began in December 2008. The blockade of Gaza has meant unemployment rates of over 50 percent. The World Bank has stated that 90 per cent of water in Gaza is not suitable for human consumption, 80 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and 70 per cent depend on charity for food supplies. Chronic malnutrition affects 15 per cent of Gaza's children and its serious consequences for their cognition and growth will be felt for years to come. Israel's army has demolished 15,000 homes, destroyed schools, factories and services, and even demolished minarets from mosques. The illegal weapons used against the people of Gaza have killed hundreds and wounded thousands of civilians, including children.

The attack on the freedom boat is just the latest act of the Israeli regime's violence and more evidence of the mad aggression of the Israeli government. Now there are angry protests in the streets of Gaza, Palestine and all over the world by many thousands of people demanding an end to the Israeli regime's brutal oppression of Palestinians. The CWI is participating in these protests internationally and is part of building a mass movement against the racist, repressive and vicious Israeli regime. This capitalist government is supported by many regimes, both Arab and Western, in its repression and exploitation of the Palestinian masses and in its continuous military occupations and economic sanctions.

Arab regimes fail Palestinians, again

For Palestinian workers and the poor, this is the time to be united, in an independent mass movement of workers and the poor, inside and outside of Gaza. Such a movement is the only force able to break the siege and to open the borders. It would appeal to workers and the oppressed in the region to join the struggle for liberation and for an end to capitalism and barbarism. The Palestinian political factions have show, once again, that they are incapable of leading the Palestinian masses to liberation and workers and the poor, those paying the price for the policies of the ruling elites; need to rise up against the system of colonial wars and mass poverty. All Arab regimes, and all mainstream parties, are unwilling to call for the masses to break the siege on Gaza, as they fear that this will lead to an independent mass movement that will swipe them away from power. They are unstable and unpopular regimes, which are tied to the political and economic pressure of the big corporations.

The slaughter carried out by the Israeli armed forces on the freedom boats has drawn condemnation around the globe. But statements made by embarrassed UN diplomats and politicians all fall short of forcing an end to the siege, as they all, including the outspoken representatives of Turkey and Lebanon –two countries in conflict with Israel - are ruled by big capital and await a green light from US imperialism.

Protests erupted on the morning of this brutal slaughter, with hundreds of people in Lebanon, and tens of thousands across the region, taking to the streets, horrified by the senselessness of the Israeli regime. And while many feel that a war is unlikely at this moment in the region, during 'negotiations', most people would still not rule out the risk of another Israeli military attack on any resisting force in the region. What is clear is that the weakened Israeli government is trying to re-establish itself as a military might in the region, and for domestic reason, sending a message out that no one can break the sanctions which are aimed at Hamas and which are punishing civilians for supporting Hamas.

While Hamas's popularity has been decreasing recently because of their domestic policies (mainly economic but also social), these sanctions and this new slaughter will, if no mass movement is built and no socialist alternative is on offer, lead a number of desperate youth to look to the policies and methods of Hamas. This shows, once again, the urgent need for a socialist alternative to help build a mass workers' movement to break the siege and for the overthrowing of the brutal capitalist system in the region and internationally.

We say:

Release the detainees now!

End the sanctions on Gaza - Open the borders!

For a mass movement of workers and the poor in the region against capitalism

For an end to war and poverty – for world socialism

Aysha Zaki, CWI Lebanon

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

THAILAND: DECISIVE BATTLE BETWEEN THE ‘REDS’ AND THE GOVERNMENT?


Thailand - eyewitness report

By the time this report was written, the tension had increased to a new level in the streets of Bangkok since the passsing of Wednesday night's ultimatum.

By a socialistworld.net reporter in Thailand, Friday 14/10

The protesters are preparing for the impending army intervention which, judging by the murderous fighting at the end of April, would mean preparing for a bloodbath. For more than two months, the red shirts opposition to the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has been occupying the trade and financial district of Bangkok. They demand the dissolution of Parliament and call for immediate elections.

Context and history of the events:

In September 2006, the then Prime Minister, multibillionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup. At the same time, he was condemned to two years of prison for conflict of interest and various financial skullduggeries. Since then, he lives in exile in Dubai, waiting for a triumphal coming-back to Thailand.

In Thailand, the support for Thaksin essentially comes from an important number of poor farmers from the rural areas (mainly from the North of the country and from the area surrounding Bangkok), as well as from a part of the poor working class from the cities. He was able to build this support via populist policies and thanks to several small measures in favour of the poorest, that were implemented when he was in power. In the meanwhile, he of course played the role that was expected from him as a capitalist oligarch by implementing neoliberal measures which created huge discontent, widespread amongst the workers in the cities.

By the end of 2008, the yellow shirt supporters of Abhisit (the current Prime Minister) occupied the government buildings and two airports, until the then government, accused of being in league with Thaksin, was dissolved. Abhisit's party then managed to raise enough support, including from pro-Thaksin MPs, in order to form a new government. Even if the army did not play any active role in these events, it is clear for many people that so many pro-Thaksin MPs becoming turncoats could only be due to threats from the military.

In the meantime, the red shirts were organizing their first important mobilization by gathering 50,000 supporters in one of Bangkok's biggest stadiums. The main group organizing the protesters is known as the «United Front for Democracy and against Dictatorship and this is supported by the Pheu Thai Party (Party For Thais) that linked to Thaksin.

On the other hand, Abhisit's party, the Democrat Party is supported by the PAD (People Alliance for Democracy) - the yellow-shirted - and they have their main base in the urban middle class, and some layers of the working class.

The current government is widely discredited and implements policies that reinforce the role of the monarchy and of the military on the political plane. More than 70% of the government members have not been elected.

The red shirts and the battles of 2009

Exactly one year ago, in April 2009, the red shirts occupied Bangkok's city centre for the first time. They were demanding Abhisit's immediate resignation and were supporting Thaksin, the opposition figure in exile. Pitched battles raged for several days between thousands of red shirts, mainly young people, and the state forces. A state of emergency was declared and paramilitary forces were deployed. The army charged with tanks and shot at the crowd using real bullets, killing two people and wounding hundreds. The Prime Minister's car was assaulted by a raging mob. An important summit gathering the elites of various surrounding countries also had to be cancelled given the scale of the mobilization. After several weeks, and facing an important repression, the red shirts leaders accepted to dismiss their troops, promising new actions if new elections were not called soon.

April 2010 : the red shirts are rising again

Almost exactly one year after the 2009 events, the red shirts gathered again and decided to occupy en masse one of the capital's economic hearts, the Bangkok district. Many demonstrations were organized by foot, by motorbike... Their most spectacular action happened several weeks ago, when they decided to march on the Parliament, forcing it to cancel its session and the MPs to run away. For several weeks, the government even had to take refuge and meet in a town outside Bangkok.

At the same time, many rallies are organized on a daily basis. The figures suggest about 100,000 to 150,000 people showing up daily in the occupied centre. The newspaper The Nation was explaining that: "More and more poor farmers have arrived and have joined the reds in order to express their anger about their feeling of having become social victims". This same newspaper was writing on its first page :"Poverty is Thailand's biggest enemy. At least 10 million from a total of 65 million people live lower than the poverty threshold. This layer of the population has almost no access to decent food, to healthcare or to an opportunity to reach education".

For the first time, in order to ease the climate, Abhisit was forced to organize parleys with the red shirts leaders. He produced a roadmap promising elections due on 14th of November, and a whole range of measures for the poor farmers. This tactic's main aim was to demobilize the protesters and gain some time. The red shirt leaders had on the other hand decided to maintain their occupation of the city centre and to demand the immediate dissolution of the Parliament.

Facing the protesters' determination, the army has already two times tried to invade and clear the occupied area. These attempts were met by a furious resistance by the red shirts, and caused dozens of deaths. During the last weeks, many big assaults have also taken place in Bangkok, which wounded and killed several people amongst the state forces. These attacks certainly are, according to the official media, due to the red hardcores. It is also very possible that these are due to yellow shirt (government) provocateurs who have also launched several violent actions against the reds during recent days.

One of the reds' main demands since these tragic incidents is the arrest of Defence Minister Suthep, for his responsibility in the murderous repression towards the end of April. The government has on its side toughened its rhetoric and warned warning that if the protesters had not left the Rajprasong centre by the 12th of May, water and electricity would be cut before a tough military offensive, probably in the following hours. This was when, since the end of April, the government was on the defensive, fearing the implosion of the armed forces between pro-government and pro-reds.

The red shirts leader Jatuporn Promphan, stated in The Nation on the 12th of May that they would not give way to the government ultimatum and that : "We are not afraid of such pressures. After so many protesters dying, nothing can stop the reds anymore".

The mood in the red entrenched camp, and the latest events

On Wednesday 12th of April, several hours before the end of the ultimatum, I had the opportunity to get into the occupied city centre, barricaded from every side by the opposition to the regime. This district, several square kilometers wide, is very seriously secured by the reds. Every entry to the area is blocked by huge barricades, preventing access to the rally and sleeping areas.

'Black guards', the protesters' security service, search every vehicle to prevent the entry of weapons or grenades. A huge podium, connected to loud-speakers in the whole district, welcomes the main red shirt leaders' speeches in an uninterrupted flow. A crowd of many people and families stands there or sleeps on the ground – their new homes. Food and water distribution, and all other basic commodities are provided everywhere in the huge encampment. Everywhere hang pictures of the demonstrations, images of the repression in April, and banners calling for the dissolution of the Parliament. The welcome by the rank-and-file activists is very warm, and there is a widespread willingness to explain the situation, in spite of the language barrier. When I ask her what she thinks about the current situation and about the government's ultimatum, a young 19 year old red explains to us that : "I have been here for two months. The army has already tried to evict us several times. Many people have already died. They talk about 20 dead, but for us, it has been more than 100. If the army comes back – and that will surely be the case in the coming days – I will fight against them". 

The Nation's columnist has been talking about important disagreements amongst the reds for a few days now. It is clear that the huge hopes that have been raised by this massive movement, which is being used by Thaksin and by his group of thugs to enhance their own political position, cannot be simply satisfied by a simple promise of getting new elections next November. Amongst the leaders, two wings have been sketched out during the last few days : one the one side, a 'moderate' wing who wants to accept the roadmap and demobilize the forces ; on the other hand, a 'hard' wing, gathered around the Pheu Thai party, the main political party behind the reds, which is opposed to the 'roadmap'. Amongst an ever-growing layer of the mobilized red supporters, doubts are surfacing about their leaders' honesty. One of these supporters was stating that : "Today, it is clear that to maintain a confrontational stance against the government would only soon turn this area into a bloodbath. I have tried many times to discuss with the leaders, to no avail. I feel that we cannot trust some of the leaders, and I even wonder if they really fight for democracy". A radio hoisted on the site was stating a short while earlier that " the rank-and-file are self-organizing and warning their leaders that they had better not forget them". Another protester was stating : "You could order now to the protesters, from the stage, that they should go back to their homes – I think their reaction would be to throw everything that they can reach at the person who would risk this. Some are even planning to march on the 11th Infantry Regiment and to arrest the Prime Minister before launching a popular uprising".

By the time I am writing these lines (Thursday 13/05), the army has locked the whole area and got the green light to open fire using real bullets. Dozens of tanks are gathered near the barricades. A state of emergency has been declared in 15 provinces of the country. Only several minutes ago, the main red shirt leader has been killed during an interview with a Japanese TV channel by an army sniper. Battles have flared in the surrounding area in order to keep the army at bay, already resulting in one dead – a 25 year old youth name Chartchai Chalao – and 20 seriously wounded people. The red leaders have also ordered their troops to be deployed on every barricade and to stand waiting for the army. The situation will very certainly worsen in the coming hours.

What prospects for the workers and the poor masses of Thailand ?

It is clear that the events in Thailand are the expression of a power struggle between Thaksin and the Abhisit government. This situation has certainly sharpened the already existing tensions between the rural and urban populations.

The Abhisit government is today clearly supported by the military and by the monarchy, with one purpose : prevent Thaksin and his clique from coming back to power. Thaksin's supporters have self-proclaimed themselves as mouthpieces of the country's poor masses, and are only using the anger and the frustration which exists in Thai society to their own advantage. These various leaders have today deliberately sharpened the tensions and the divisions between the rural poor and the urban workers and middle class.

Yet, the victims of the elites' greed are still the poor farmers, the working class and some other layers of society, whatever side they have now chosen. Corruption has reached a never-attained before level in the country. It is clear that in this situation, none of the leaders will denounce any of the causes of the problems suffered by the Thai people. Thailand is one of the worst-hit countries by the capitalist crisis, and both camps' leaders anyway agree about who will be the one to pay for it during the coming months and years: workers and the poorest in society.

It is thus today a real disaster that there exists no party with a programme starting from the needs of the poor farmers and of the workers, in order to channel the huge existing anger which is expressing itself in the streets of the country. We will not end poverty and oppression by trusting either the government or some corrupted billionaire.

The situation today is very unstable, and it is hard to know what is going to happen in the coming days. It is clear that the government has decided to test its strength, and this is now but a matter of hours. What will the reds' ability to resist be ? Will the dissensions amongst the military burst into the open ? What will be the scale of the slaughter that we are going to witness ?

Whatever happens, even if this is not the most likely, should the red shirts finally get the calling of new elections, the official commentators are expecting a victory of Thaksin's supporters' party. Should this happen, it is very likely that the yellow shirt coalition, supported by part of the military, would again take to the streets. This all means that it is very likely that the instability continues in the country.

Moreover, what we are now seeing happening in Thailand – a country that has already known 18 coups since the 1930s – is an indication of the instability which could develop on a wider scale throughout the whole of Asia as a reaction against the worsening of the crisis. For us, revolutionary socialists of the world, it is therefore even more important to understand the emergency in relation to the building of a mass political force in order to defend the interests of the workers and of the poor masses, as well as the need to organize the battle for a socialist society, the only alternative which could finally break with capitalist barbarism.

The Committee for a Workers' International demands:

• No to suppression of democratic rights and clamp-downs on the media

• Abolish any draconian law such as ISA (Internal Security Act) which suppresses the rights of the people

• No to the rule of generals and the rule of corrupt, millionaire politicians

• Total opposition to a military coup

• For a mass struggle to win full democratic rights, including workers' rights to organise, to protest, and to strike

• For independent, fighting, democratic unions and small farmers' organisations

• Trade union rights for the armed forces rank and file - win poor soldiers to the struggles of working people

• For the building of a mass workers' and poor farmers' party

• For a united struggle of workers, poor farmers, students and others oppressed by the system to overthrow the corrupt government

• For a genuine, representative Constituent Assembly

• Abolish the monarchy

• For a majority workers' and poor farmers' government

• Full rights for the oppressed Muslim population in the South of Thailand and all other minorities

• No to neo-liberal policies of privatisation and de-regulation

• Take into democratic public ownership the big business enterprises, major industries, large private land-holdings and banks

• For an economy planned to meet the needs of the working people and poor farmers, under the democratic control and management of elected committees from the working class and small farmers

• For a socialist Thailand, as part of a socialist confederation throughout South East Asia


 

Monday, 3 May 2010

A YEAR AFTER NAJIB TAKES OVER…


POLITICAL LANDSCAPE LITTLE CHANGED SINCE 2008 'TSUNAMI'

On 3 April, Najib Razak celebrated his one year as prime minister after succeeding from Abdullah Badawi. Since taking over, he has been entrusted to save the 'sinking ship' of UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) and BN (National Front) after the BN government under Abdullah was humiliated when it lost its two thirds majority in parliament for the first time since the 1969 election as well as losing four state governments to Pakatan Rakyat (PR-People's Coalition) in the 2008 general election.

When Najib came into power, he immediately devised the slogan, "One Malaysia: People First, Performance Now", to fortify his political standing as well as strengthening UMNO and BN. This slogan was supposed to address the racial inequalities by, "developing respect for one another and to learn to trust one another more...it is a formula for unity in diversity". Following this, he launched a series of policies of 'reform' to make "BN relevant to the multiracial society of Malaysia". Firstly, he introduced 'Key Performance Indicators' and later a 'Government Transformation Programme' in order "to improve government services and managements". Recently he announced the NEM (New Economic Model) "to strengthen the economy from the global economic uncertainty and to make sure Malaysia becomes a developed country".

A recent survey by the independent pollster, Merdeka Centre, showed that Najib's popularity rating has improved to 68% from around 40% when he was appointed as prime minister. With that, Najib proclaimed that his 'One Malaysia' multiracial unity concept and his policies to improve the economy are being supported by the people and the BN has been regaining the support they lost in the last general election. The victory of BN over Pakatan Rakyat in the by-election in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat on 25 April has been used as further evidence of increased support for Najib and his policies, especially since there he was "fighting a battle in a state controlled by the opposition". This shows that the Najib government is going all out to make sure they win comfortably in the next general election in two or three years' time.

However, the strengthened opposition of the Pakatan Rakyat - the coalitions of PKR (People's Justice Party), PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party) and DAP (Democratic Action Party) - under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim is also campaigning to "save Malaysia", to bring to an end the BN rule that has lasted for more than half a century and to take over the running of the federal government in the next general election to establish a "better Malaysia".

Hulu Selangor bye-election

The Hulu Selangor by-election, the tenth by-election since the last general election, has been regarded as a referendum for both the BN and the PR. For the BN it was a gauge of the acceptance by people of Najib's policies over the last one year and for the PR it was to measure the support of the people for the PR-ruled Selangor state government's policies. Because of that both parties had gone desperately all-out to win the seat to boost their popularity among the masses in general.

This by-election has been labelled by the opposition as the, "dirtiest, [most] corrupt and expensive" by-election in which "character assassination, racism, bribery and brute force" were used by the BN camp to garner votes.

There is an irony in Malaysia that the ordinary people can only get any benefit from their state assemblymen or parliamentarians when he or she dies and causes a by-election. In this one, all types of 'goodies' and promises were ladled out by both sides to garner votes. However, with the BN having the upper-hand over the 'Three Ms' - 'Machinery, Media and Money' - they went all out to win this by-election. Even an unsolved land issue between settlers with the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) – the government-linked plantation giant – that had been going on for a decade, was suddenly resolved when the prime minister, Najib, promised to compensate the one hundred settlers affected with RM50,000 each. The opposition accused the BN of having spent RM167million on projects in a 7 day campaigning period to win votes in Hulu Selangor which has around 60,000 inhabitants.

On the other hand, the Selangor's PR state government had also used its resources as well as its authority to garner votes. But as in the Bagan Pinang by election, people were seeing that the PR politicians' policies, programmes and approaches were not much different than the BN politicians'. Both parties appeared only sympathetic to the ordinary people during the election and did not care about their welfare and needs all this while. For instance, the plantation workers as well as the 'orang asli' (the indigenous people) in Hulu Selangor, are living in deplorable conditions, but their economic and social issues and their rights, that are discriminated against by big companies, have not been taken care of. In that case, people, especially the 'fence sitters', are keen to lean towards a party that can immediately solve certain problems or give better rewards or promises.

The thin majority of 1,725 gained by the BN in the by-election was not exactly because the people supported the Najib 'OneMalaysia' and NEM, but mainly because of the BN aggressively using its control of the '3Ms' to win. This victory will be used to boost BN's image and also to continually damage the reputation of Pakatan Rakyat, such as by triggering more defections from the PR camp into the BN.

Racial politics

This and the previous by-elections have also shown that UMNO and the BN have no other way but utilising their patronage and also racial sentiments to garner votes. Yet it was for this that they were punished in the last general election. This shows that they are incapable of getting rid of their ingrained racial politics that they have maintained since independence in 1957.

UMNO as the dominant party in BN as usual used the idea of Malay special rights and Malay hegemony to maintain the support of especially the rural Malays while propagating the unity idea of 'OneMalaysia' among the non-Malays. The multiracial coalition appearance of the BN is still used to make sure it is supported by all races. But almost all its main coalition partners other than UMNO – the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), Gerakan (Movement) and the PPP (People Progressive Party) – have not been able to regain the respective support of their races since the last general election. In that situation, UMNO has been the dominant player. As can be seen in the Hulu Selangor by-election, Najib himself had to go down to campaign, which is rare in any by-elections, to make sure of victory.

At the same time, since the start of the year, the racial/religious tensions have been heightened by a few politically-linked incidents related to racial/religious sentiments. The conservative and ultra-right wing group, Perkasa, has openly vowed to safeguard Malay rights and hegemony and this group is now backed by former PM, Mahatir Mohammad. It is also tacitly supported by UMNO to cater for the sentiments of some sections of Malays that see their economic rights being taken away by non-Malays. The government's unwillingness to disband this group, but at the same time propagating 'OneMalaysia', is seen as hypocritical.

At this juncture, Najib has slightly increased his popularity because of the hopes he has raised about building unity and meeting the needs of all regardless of race. On the other hand, the failure of PR to counter Najib's policies with clear alternatives has also given some space for Najib to manoeuvre. However, with racial prejudices and hypocrisy prevalent, this could be temporary as people realise that his 'OneMalaysia' and NEM are only another kind of political propaganda of the BN and that it cannot meet the social and economic needs of the ordinary people, regardless of race.

Reforms and democracy

Nevertheless the impact of the 'political tsunami' of the 2008 general election is still felt, especially among the urban population in West Malaysia. This is comprised of people of the working and middle class as well youth who are hoping for better living standards and to get rid of the impact of the neo-liberal attacks of of the BN government. They are also looking for change and to obtain the democratic rights that are being suppressed by the BN government. The anger and hatred towards the 'happy-go-lucky' attitude and the 'arrogance' of UMNO and the BN has pushed them to lend support for Pakatan Rakyat.

With the stimulus packages introduced to improve the economy, the Najib government has the advantage of using it to launch his 'reform' projects, such as improving infrastructure as well as public services to recapture the support of the people. Programmes such as OneMalaysia Clinics were launched in some areas to demonstrate that the BN government is caring for all people regardless of race and religion. But such reforms are very limited. However, the BN government has shown it is incapable of reforming his administration and its state tools such as the police and legal systems. The corruption and mismanagement of public funds are still rife. Meanwhile, the reforms it has made, such as to the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the University and College Act) (UACA) are very limited and still can be used to suppress the democratic rights of the people.

Recently, a PR leader lamented that, since taking over the government, Najib has been emulating some of the 'reforms' and economic agenda of Pakatan Rakyat such as 'freeing' the economy. After the last general election Anwar and the PR launched their Malaysian Economic Agenda as the alternative to the BN's economic policies, with the main agenda of "liberalising the economy and distributing wealth equally, regardless of race". This will be done, they say, by safeguarding the free market system and basically making the government administration better and more transparent. And now under pressure, Najib has had to emulate some of the PR reform agenda. How far he can go will depend on the country's economic performance in the coming period.

Meanwhile, the Pakatan Rakyat state governments which are propagating transparency and 'government for the people' have also introduced some welfare benefits and projects and are making the local councils more efficient to a certain extent than when they were under BN administration.

Although such reforms have benefited certain people, the majority still consider that their living standards have not improved much and even some see their situation getting worst. Issues such as high crime rates, inflation, illegal loans, the increasing cost of living and stagnating wages are continually hounding the ordinary people - the working class, middle class, poor farmers and fishermen as well the youth. This shows that the reforms propagated by both the BN and the PR have not fundamentally addressed the social and economic needs of these ordinary people. They have adjusted their policies to accommodate to the profit-orientation of the 'free' market system of capitalism.

Fight against capitalism

Although the stimulus packages have cushioned the economy to a certain extent for some periods, this cannot be the permanent solution for the Malaysian economy which is still very much export-oriented with a limited domestic market. The NEM was aimed at developing service and high-tech industries to make Malaysia a high income economy rather than being as currently, a middle income economy mainly based on manufacturing and commodities (oil, palm oil, rubber). This means that in recent times the government has been under pressure when the Foreign Direct Investment is not much coming to Malaysia but going to countries like China, Vietnam, Indonesia and others that offer far cheaper labour costs and reasonably good investment facilities. But, with the continuing global economic uncertainties and high competition for FDI among the region's countries, this would make the dream of a high income economy not possible.

The truth is that, at present, Malaysia still has to depend on being high income economies such as the US, Europe and Japan to at least maintain its middle income standing. This was clear when, a few weeks ago, Najib met Obama in the USA and also visited Japan to attract more FDI into Malaysia to counter poor investment by foreign companies. In the coming period, if the BN government cannot find ways of improving the economy, this could further provoke more social explosions on issues such as unemployment and inflation, as well as leading to tensions between the races due to an unequal distribution of wealth.

The PR state governments, as well the federal government of BN, are working under the dictates of the free market system of capitalism. Because of that, the reforms promised by the PR and their implementation in some of the state governments have been limited. Sometimes they succumb to the pressure of the business class and investors. Although the BN government says it is working to fulfill the needs of the people, in the background they are propagating the mantra of capitalism - to maximize the profits of national and international capitalists. The plan to introduce a Goods and Service Tax (GST), a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and to cut subsidies and public spending show the pressure of capitalism to further plunder the resources and labour of the working class and the poor in the country.

Genuine racial unity is not possible as long as the fundamental needs and the cultural and religious rights of all races are not equally fulfilled and respected. This will not be possible as long as the government bases its politics on fulfilling the profit needs of the elites, cronies and capitalists.

Capitalist democracy, as far as it is implemented by the BN, is used to safeguard the power and profit interests of the minority - the elites and capitalists. In a genuine democracy, the majority would participate in all planning and decision-making processes to determine that wealth and resources are equally distributed and shared according to people's needs. This requires a transformation from the current system to a system based on public ownership of the main industries, banks and land and planning of the economy to be democratically controlled and managed by elected representatives of the the majority - the working class and the ordinary people. In order to achieve this reality, we need an independent working class party that is also supported by youth and other oppressed layers in society. This party has to be clearly against the system of capitalism and armed with socialist policies to fight for democratic rights as well as the cultural, social and economic needs of the majority - the working class and others oppressed by the system - regardless of race and religion.

Monday, 19 April 2010

VOLCANOES, CHAOS AND THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM


No, we will not be able to control the eruption of volcanoes under socialism. But – we can make sure, that its effects will not lead to a chaotic situation such as we see now as a result of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland.

As an airline passenger, stranded in London and only being able to get home on my own, without any help from "my" airline or officials, one thing is very clear to me: privatization and "free competition" under capitalism lead to the catastrophic situation that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people face all over Europe and beyond.

No international plan for help

As the transport systems are divided into national systems and, even further, into different competing companies, no international plan has been drawn up to help stranded passengers. The situation is that the overwhelming majority do not get any information from the airline they have paid a lot of money to for their tickets. People have to find out by themselves about the next steps to take or places to sleep.

In a nationalised integrated transport system, orientated to the needs of people, the situation could be handled much quicker and better. People would informed about the situation and the possibilities for alternative travel and accommodation. They would be picked up at the airports and brought to hotels quickly. It would be possible to make sure that those who have to travel get on their way as quickly as possible. But in today's capitalist system, it is those who manage to be stronger and quicker then others, and especially those who have more money, who find ways to travel – the others are just left alone.

With international planning to meet the needs of people and not profits, trains, buses and ferries could be coordinated much better then they are now. Extra wagons could be added to trains to make sure that all passengers find a place. Buses could bring people whose flights are cancelled together, either to places they can stay until their flight can take off or to the places they need to go. An international plan could make sure that the needs of people come before profits. That would mean that people and essential goods are transported before lorries carrying non-essential loads are. A nationalized transport system would mean no private companies suddenly increasing their prices to make extra profits and that stranded passengers are transported for no extra charge to their destinations.

Now, in the present crisis, passengers are totally left on their own. They do not know where to go, how to pay for the accommodation, for trains and other things.

Money is a big problem for a lot of people – it is not sure if they will get the money they have spent refunded. They have to pay out for accommodation or to continue their journey on their own. The airlines and the insurance companies will do everything possible to leave those extra costs with the passengers.

Already some airlines have explained that they will be in serious financial problems because of this volcanic eruption and that it might be necessary to bail them out through governments. This is another dirty trick of capitalist companies to use the situation for their own benefit. The crisis of the airline companies is not due to the eruption, although it definitely increases their problems, rather their problems are due to the general economic crisis.

For working people it is not only a question of the extra money passengers have had to spend being refunded. The likelihood is that this air transport crisis will produce a new wave of attacks on the wages and working conditions of the airline staff as well as an increase of flight prices in the next period. This must not be accepted by the staff and the unions, but fought against.

The current chaotic situation should be taken up by trade unions and socialists all over Europe. They should not only demand a stop to privatization, but also to go further. They should explain the need for nationalised transport systems, the need for the international planning of transportation, and the need for a different society – a socialist society where the needs of people are central, not profits.

Sonja Grusch, CWI Austria

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

THAILAND: RED SHIRT SUPPORTERS DEMAND NEW ELECTIONS


RED-SHIRT SUPPORTERS INVADE PARLIAMENT…THOUSANDS DEMAND DISSOLUTION AS POLITICAL CRISIS DEEPENS

The BBC World Service has reported that on Wednesday 7 April, "Thousands of Thai anti-government protesters - known as "red-shirts" – [have] marched on parliament, amid high political tension in Bangkok. The red-shirts forced MPs to call off a session and some breached security to enter parliament's grounds…"

For almost three weeks now, Bangkok streets have been overwhelmed by thousands of red-shirted supporters with a series of anti-government demonstrations and rallies. These are the largest and best organised ones since the 2006 'yellow-shirt' rallies that led to the ouster of former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Some estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 people have demonstrated at the weekends to pressurise the Democrat-led coalition government of present Prime Minister Abhisit to call for new elections. This is the latest stage of the power struggle between Thaksin and the government. It has ratcheted up the tense relationship that exists between the rural population that generally supports Thaksin and the urban population that supports Abhisit and the 'Democrats'.

Democrat government under pressure

The red-shirts - formally known as the 'United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship' (UDD) – have accused Abhisit of coming to power illegitimately, with the backing of the military and the monarchy. Only new elections, they say, can "return the country to democracy". The red-shirts also launched a similar series of demonstrations from January to April last year and, at its peak, they stormed the venue of an Asian summit. Direct confrontation with the police ensued, leaving two people dead, but it was unsuccessful in pressuring Abhisit to call new elections.

Abhisit came to power in December 2008 when thousands of yellow-shirts backed by the monarchy and the military, staged a blockade at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports. This led to the downfall of a government led by Thaksin's proxies. (Thaksin was in 'exile' in Dubai). Now in this conflict, once again, the Abhisit government is solidly backed by the monarchy, the military and the business community. They all have a common goal - to ensure that Thaksin as well as the opposition, Puea Thai Party that sympathises with him do not return to power. This is mainly to safeguard their wealth and power from being undermined by Thaksin's crony capitalism, as they experienced when he was in the government from 2001 to 2006.

The government has been forced to come into negotiations with the red shirt leaders to diffuse the tensions. Abhisit has proposed to dissolve parliament by the end of the year - one year ahead of schedule. This was basically to gain more time, to strengthen his position and that of the Democrat coalition government before facing the next election, by "fixing the economy, amending the constitution's election laws, approving a politically vital military reshuffle and passing the budget". Nevertheless UDD leaders have urged him to dissolve the parliament by April 12.

Last week, under pressure, the government announced a few populist measures for the rural poor such as canceling $1.3 billion worth of farmers' debts. This was a move obviously aimed at placating the protesters. However, two rounds of negotiations could not resolve the conflict. Realising that the rallies of the red-shirts have, to a certain extent, pressured the initially unperturbed Abhisit to negotiate and make certain concessions, the UDD leaders are utilising 'the first round success' to go all out and urge Abhisit to dissolve the parliament immediately.

More conflicts unfolding

Up to now, the demonstrations were peaceful, unlike the street battles seen in late 2008 and in April 2009. A dozen or so people were wounded over the weekend, including four soldiers, in the series of grenade attacks on government and army buildings. Most have been minor blasts that have not caused injuries. In the first two weeks the red shirts rallied around government and military buildings using tactics such as splashing their own blood on government buildings. But this did not much disrupt the government and business activities. It seems that the Abhisit regime is trying to buy time for a while with the hope that the protesters will go home when their enthusiasm and funding fade.

However, the protests have started to affect the tourism industries and have angered the people involved in them. Last Friday they themselves staged a demonstration in Bangkok to voice their dissatisfaction, saying: "The decline (in tourism) has reached a point where we risk losing visitors for the long-term".

Last Saturday, the red shirts has started to focus their rallies around the commercial centre and caused central roads in the capital to be blocked. Traffic halted and at least two of Thailand's biggest shopping malls were forced to close. The demonstration also prompted dozens of department stores and restaurants to close their doors to the public. On Monday, about 100 demonstrators briefly occupied the national election commission offices in Bangkok, to demand commissioners to take action against Democrat party irregularities in the last election. This and the small clash between the protesters and security forces on Tuesday at the demonstration site have further increased the tension between the protesters and the authorities.

The Thai finance minister estimated that around 10 billion baht ($312.5 million) could be lost if the protest was allowed to continue in the commercial centre for more than a week. The business class has started to worry about their profits and they insist on the government taking immediate action to resolve the conflict.

To date, both the protesters and the authorities have avoided the use of violence, but as the demonstration drags on a showdown seems likely like that in April last year. The government, with the help of the army and police, could employ stern actions against the demonstrators or utilise the ISA (Internal Security Act) that allows the prime minister to use the military to restore order if necessary, to suppress the conflict.

Nevertheless, if the red-shirts are successful in demanding new elections, it is most likely not going to change the political landscape either. In the case of new elections, it is expected that Abhisit's coalition would lose to the Puea Thai Party, the proxy for Thaksin. If this materialises, the same yellow-shirted alliance with the military and civilian elites that toppled Thaksin in 2006 and their allies in 2008 might again reject the outcome of an election that favours Thaksin's proxies and could launch their own rallies and demonstrations. That means instability would persist as long as the 'elite's war' continues.

Past political conflicts in Thailand have also shown that when the conflict becomes too intense, the military will step in to take over the government. Military coups have been staged 18 times since the advent of the constitutional monarchy in 1932. But for the time being, it has not be an option. The last military government which lasted for one year after a coup in 2006 failed to impress the local and multinational capitalists.

Another key question now, is the looming royal succession. King Bhumipol Adulyadej, the widely revered monarch, has reigned for six decades and has been an important source of legitimacy for the unelected government when the political conflict has become uncontrollable. He has been in hospital since last September and his successor, the crown prince, is widely disliked by the masses. It is believed that the alliance between the monarch, the army and the Bangkok elite is holding together only out of respect for the ailing king. If the king dies soon, this alliance could crumble. This could lead to another power struggle as the competing elites will attempt to fill the vacuum left by the king and his weak successor. This potentially could lead to more serious confrontations.

'Class war'?

Most of the red-shirts are poor farmers from rural areas in the north-east of Thailand where the former prime minister and business tycoon, Thaksin, still has popular support. He was overthrown through a military coup in 2006 and since then remains in exile. But, while the red-shirts are mainly poor farmers linked to some of Thaksin's political agenda, their reasons and aspirations for rallying in Bangkok are also due to the increasing gap between rich and poor. They accuse the government of "double standards that favour established Bangkok interests".

The UDD leaders and Thaksin have echoed these grievances and portrayed the demonstrations as, "A struggle between Thailand's impoverished, mainly rural masses -who benefited from Thaksin's policies of cheap health care and low-interest village loans and the Bangkok-based elite, insensitive to their plight". They are even proclaiming this conflict as 'class war'. It is clear that Thaksin and his proxies that have been isolated by the Democrat government are merely using the rural poor as their foot soldiers to achieve their goal to destabilise the Democrat government.

The same grievances also existed among the working and middle class people in Bangkok during the Thaksin laissez-faire regime; it hugely benefited multinationals and his own crony capitalists. The favourable economic climate in the early 2000s was used by Thaksin to realise his populist political agenda by fulfilling some of the long-term demands of the poor and landless farmers that had been neglected by previous governments including the Democrats. This is not consciously done to benefit them but for his own political survival in subsequent elections by gaining the support of the majority rural poor. At the same time, at behind the scenes he used this overwhelming support from the poor as a mask to accumulate billions of dollars for his family and his cronies.

Workers and poor farmers' party and socialist programme

It is obvious that the very nature of capitalism has created the ongoing political crisis in Thailand. It is a political clash between two elites to control the government and use this power to exploit the wealth of the country for the benefit of the crony capitalists aligned with them as well as the vultures of the multinational capitalism. The wealth disparities is growing in Thailand, in which the bottom 10% of the population only gets less than 2% of GDP, while the richest 10% gain up to 40% of GDP. This shows why the profit-oriented system of capitalism is supported by the elites in the main political parties and the army as well as the monarch.

They have been manoeuvring by dividing the poor farmers in rural areas from the working and middle class people in the urban centre, Bangkok. These manoeuvres are merely for their own political survival in power and to continuously accumulate wealth from the labour of the poor farmers and the working class. However, the poor farmers, the working class and others that have been oppressed in society for the benefit of these capitalists are now being burdened and alienated by the political crisis that has been created by these elites and capitalists.

In this situation, none of them will denounce the capitalist system that has exacerbated the class disparity and marginalised large segments of the population of poor farmers and the working class, politically, economically and socially. This shows that the red-shirted leaders are actually waging an 'elite war' for their own survival not 'class war' for the emancipation of the poor from the capitalist hegemony.

Capitalist 'democracy', created for the survival of the capitalists and their system, is also being undermined when the parties that lose an election cannot accept the outcome. It is crucial for workers and all exploited layers in society to defuse the tension between the rural poor and the urban working and middle class, but this will not be the agenda of the capitalist elites that prefer their 'divide and rule' political hegemony. In the coming period, a new movement that unites the working class, poor farmers, students and middle class is crucial to emancipate the working class and the poor farmers from the clutch of capitalism and its apologist of political elites. It needs to be based on struggle against capitalist domination that has marginalised large segments of the population.

The urbanisation and industrialisation of the 1990s pushed the rural population, especially the poor farmers, into struggles to gain their rights from the government. Notably, in 1997, a coalition of rural villagers and urban slum-dwellers from every region of Thailand staged a mass demonstration of over 25,000 people for 99 days in front of Government House in Bangkok to force the government to address their grievances, many of which involved large-scale development projects that affected their communities. At that time they came into a coalition called 'Assembly of the Poor' to fight for their rights. Ultimately this coalition ended up in NGO activism and was incapable of developing this movement politically. The fact that it did not link up the struggle of the poor farmers with that of the working class to challenge the system, left a vacuum that was opportunistically used by Thaksin to get into power.

The economic contribution of the majority of Thailand's people - the 60% rural population - is mainly through agricultural activities. This accounts for around 10% of Thai GDP. (Annual GDP per capita in Thailand is a mere $3,850.) Manufacturing, electronic and service industries - concentrated mainly in the urban centres such as Bangkok - account for 80% of GDP. This means that although in a minority, almost 40% of the working class of Thailand is playing the key role in contributing to Thailand's economy and generating the huge profits needed by the capitalist class. Although at present around 2% of workers are unionised and the laws are not favourable to them, workers' strikes and struggles are also occurring from time to time to fight against neo-liberal attacks and to demand their rights. For instance, last year in June, the railway workers in the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) labour union staged a strike to protest the restructuring of the railways organisation. This industrial action closed down rail services across Thailand and forced the government to negotiate.

Class war or class struggle in the understanding of socialists means the conflict between the working class and the capitalist class. Socialists work for emancipating the working class, and others oppressed under capitalism, through mobilizing their full force to establish a democratic socialist society – one which would utilise the wealth and resources of society for the needs of the majority through public ownership and democratic control and management. It would be a society without prejudices and oppression.

In order to realise these aspirations, the working class needs to initiate their own leadership and organisation that should be armed with socialist policies with the support of others that are oppressed by the system such as poor farmers, poor middle class layers, youths, students and others. On the other hand, such a party also needs to link the demand for democratic rights and reforms and for decent living standards to the need to transform the system. It would fight to establish a state that fulfilled the needs of workers and poor farmers and appeal for the support of the workers and poor in Southeast Asia and worldwide towards building a socialist society.

CWI demands:

No to suppression of democratic rights and clamp-downs on the media

• Abolish any draconian law such as ISA (Internal Security Act) which suppresses the rights of the people

• No to the rule of generals and the rule of corrupt, millionaire politicians

• Total opposition to the military coup

• For a mass struggle to win full democratic rights, including workers' rights to organise, to protest, and to strike

• For independent, fighting, democratic unions and small farmers' organisations

• Trade union rights for the armed forces rank and file - win poor soldiers to the struggles of working people

• For the building of a mass workers' and poor farmers' party

• For a united struggle of workers, poor farmers, students and others oppressed by the system to overthrow the corrupt government

• For a genuine, representative Constituent Assembly

• Abolish the monarchy

• For a majority workers' and poor farmers' government

• Full rights for the oppressed Muslim population on the South of Thailand and all other minorities

• No to neo-liberal policies of privatisation and de-regulation

•Take into democratic public ownership the big business enterprises, major industries, large private land-holdings and banks

• For an economy planned to meet the needs of the working people and poor farmers, under the democratic control and management of elected committees from the working class and small farmers

• For a socialist Thailand, as part of a socialist federation throughout South East Asia

Ravichandren (CWI in Malaysia)