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The Debt Before the Storm

By Lance Selfa - Socialist Worker, September 26, 2017

THE SOCIALIST German playwright Bertolt Brecht once wrote that "famines do not simply occur; they are organized by the grain trade."

A similar observation could be made about Puerto Rico today. Replace "famine" with "natural disaster," and the "grain trade" with "U.S. colonialism," and you have a succinct summation of the human disaster that is unfolding on the island today.

Puerto Rico is reeling in the aftermath of landfalls by two huge hurricanes, Irma and Maria, in the space of a few weeks. As this article was being written, most of the island remained without electricity, and 70,000 residents could be in danger if the damaged Guajataca Dam failed. People all over the island are contending with flooding and food shortages--malnutrition and outbreaks of disease are real possibilities.

Any area that suffered the blows of two powerful hurricanes in succession would face major challenges.

But Puerto Rico isn't just any area. It is a colony of the United States--its oldest, in fact.

Over the last two decades, Puerto Rico's economy has been systematically degraded while Wall Street and European capital loaded up its public sector with more than $70 billion of unpayable debt.

As a result, the basic infrastructure of the island--its health care, water and power systems--were already in the grips of a desperate crisis before the hurricanes hit. For ordinary Puerto Ricans, life under successive austerity regimes had become increasingly intolerable--and it will only become more so now.

This October, All Hands On Deck to Stop the TPP

By Steve Brown - Labor Notes, September 30, 2016

The White House is hell-bent on forcing the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress during the lame-duck session immediately after the election, when political accountability to constituents is at its lowest.

That’s why it’s critical that workers and unions demand that waffling members of Congress state their opposition to the TPP this October, before the election—while we still have some leverage.

TPP is like a giant version of NAFTA, covering 12 countries around the Pacific. This multinational treaty poses an urgent threat to our democracy, jobs, health, environment, drug prices, and the Internet.

Communications Workers (CWA) Local 3611 member Grant Welch hadn’t even heard of the TPP until he attended a union training in June. Now he’s helping his local to phonebank, asking every member to call their Congressperson. CWA held a national call-in day September 14.

“People are eager and willing to learn,” says Welch, a telecom worker in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We have a group of very passionate young workers who have visited every work center and every yard to tell workers about the TPP.” He and fellow activists have also passed out flyers at Moral Monday rallies, and they’re spreading the word to family and friends.

Smoke and Mirrors: Lonmin’s failure to address housing conditions at Marikana, South Africa

By staff - Amnesty International, August 16, 2016

Since 2012 Amnesty International has commented and campaigned on the serious policing failures that led to the deaths at Marikana, calling for full accountability and reparations for the victims and their families. That work continues.

This report examines abuses of the right to adequate housing of mine workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine operation. Its primary focus is an examination of Lonmin’s response to the findings of the Farlam Commission.

In this regard it looks both at what Lonmin has done and what the company has said about the situation.

Read the text (PDF).

Why we must oppose austerity and join the Manchester protest: a Green Perspective

By the Green Trade Unionist - A Green Trade Unionist in Bristol, August 14, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

We all know that austerity is a ‘social justice’ disaster. This morally reprehensible policy is forcing ordinary people – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markets. In its most extreme the cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths. Austerity kills.

On top of this, the economic justification for inflicting all this misery has been completely discredited with most economists agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth, prolonged the effects of the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it) and utterly failed as an apparent strategy to reduce national debt. Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but a repackaged conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.

All this is grounds enough for why austerity is wrong and why we must fight against it, and large protests like the 250,000-strong June 20th Demo in London and the ones in Manchester in October this year (co-organised by the TUC and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to coincide with the Tory Party Conference) are crucial in building this struggle against a great social injustice. Nonetheless, within these debates and protest movements we must be sure to argue that austerity is also a huge obstruction to the aims of environmental justice and directly threatens attempts to mitigate climate change.

Greens support pension cuts but keep benefits for the rich

By Andrea Bunting - Green Left Weekly, June 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The federal government is keen to cut the age pension. Its latest proposal to double the taper rate on the assets test has been supported by the Greens on the basis that this measure will reduce government support to those with significant wealth.

The Greens also hoped that by supporting these pension cuts, the government would rein in tax concessions on superannuation. However, the government has since publicly ruled out any superannuation changes.

So the deal does not reduce benefits given to the rich. It reduces benefits to those in the middle, while providing a small benefit — about $15 per week — to pensioners with modest assets. The poorest pensioners receive nothing extra.

National Seniors Australia has expressed concern that these changes will reduce pensions, while not addressing superannuation tax concessions.

The government provides support for people’s retirement through the age pension and through tax concessions on superannuation. The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and Mercer have modelled the total lifetime government support for retirement incomes received by those on different levels of income.

Their modelling found that the bottom 10% of earners average about $400,000 in government retirement support over their lifetime. Meanwhile, the top 10% of earners average about $489,000. This group doesn’t even get the age pension.

But the greatest government largesse is reserved for those in the top 1% income range. The modelling showed that the richest 1% receive on average around $630,000 of lifetime government support. Under the new law, lifetime support for some middle income earners has now been slashed to $214,000.

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

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