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Bankers Are Driving the Wheat Price Explosion, Not the War in Ukraine

By Matteo Tiratelli - Red Green Labour, May 19, 2022

In late March, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that the war in Ukraine risked unleashing a “hurricane of global hunger”. With climate change-induced droughts in east Africa and intense heatwaves in India, they feared that a war in Europe’s most fertile and productive region could compound the situation and lead to food shortages on an unprecedented scale. The UN’s concerns were made terrifyingly concrete earlier this month, when the World Food Programme estimated that “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation”.

The problem is, this narrative – that war and climate change are leading to mass starvation – is wrong.

The recent news cycle has been driven by the explosion in the price of wheat, which has gone from $7.58 per bushel at the start of the year to nearly $12 a few months later. But the prices of basic commodities are extremely volatile. And these spikes have little to do with the amount of food going around, or how much people are eating. Instead, they are driven by financial speculation.

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Putin’s Carbon Bomb

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, March 8, 2022

At a time when the entire world needs to focus on radical climate policy changes, he has thrust us into a war that might be as existentially dire as the climate crisis.

On day three of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a worldwide group of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) gathered on Zoom to put the final stamp of approval on the UN body’s latest devastating report on the world’s feeble progress on climate.

A dark gloom hung over the proceedings as war threatened to derail global action on climate for years to come. Then Svitlana Krakovska, a Kyiv-based Ukrainian climatologist leading her country’s delegation to the virtual meeting, breached the IPCC’s longstanding commitment to apolitical discourse with a trenchant observation.

“Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels and our dependence on them,” she reportedly told her colleagues during a break from the air-raid sirens blaring intermittently in the Ukrainian capital. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels. If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”

After Krakovska spoke, scientists and climate diplomats from the 195 IPCC nations listened in amazement as Oleg Anisimov, the head of the Russian delegation, apologized “on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict.”

Nationalizing Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Practical Solution to Rising Inflation

By C.J. Polychroniou and Robert Pollin - Truthout, February 24, 2022

Since mid-2020, inflation has been rising, with the level of average prices going up at a faster rate than it has since the early 1980s. In January 2022, prices had increased by 7.5 percent compared to prices in January 2021, and it now looks like the U.S. may be stuck with higher inflation in 2022 and even beyond.

Why are prices rising so dramatically? Are we heading toward double-digit inflation? Can anything be done to curb inflation? How does inflation impact growth and unemployment? Renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin provides comprehensive responses to these questions in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Back in the 1970s, inflation was the word that was on everybody’s lips. It was the longest stretch of inflation that the United States had experienced and seems to have been caused by a surge in oil prices. Since then, we’ve had a couple of other brief inflationary episodes, one in the late 1980s and another one in mid-2008, both of which were also caused by skyrocketing gas prices. Inflation returned with a vengeance in 2021, causing a lot of anxiety, and it’s quite possible that we could be stuck with it throughout 2022. What’s causing this inflation surge, and how likely is it that we could see a return to 1970s levels of inflation?

Robert Pollin: For the 12-month period ending this past January, inflation in the U.S economy was at 7.5 percent. This is the highest U.S. rate since 1981, when inflation was at 10.3 percent. Over the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, U.S. inflation averaged 2.2 percent. The inflation rate for 2020 itself was 1.2 percent. Obviously, some new forces have come into play over the past year as the U.S. economy has been emerging out of the COVID-induced recession.

To understand these new forces, let’s first be clear on what exactly we mean by the term “inflation.” The 7.5 percent increase in inflation is measuring the average rise in prices for a broad basket of goods and services that a typical household will purchase over the course of a year. At least in principle, this includes everything — food, rent, medical expenses, child care, auto purchases and upkeep, gasoline, home heating fuel, phone services, internet connections and Netflix subscriptions.

In fact, prices for the individual items within this overall basket of goods and services have not all been rising at this average 7.5 percent rate. Rather, the 7.5 percent average figure includes big differences in price movements among individual components in the overall basket.

The biggest single factor driving up overall inflation rate is energy prices. Energy prices rose by 27 percent over the past year, and within the overall energy category, gasoline rose by 40 percent and heating oil by 46 percent. This spike in gasoline and heating oil prices, in turn, has fed into the total operating costs faced by nearly all businesses, since these businesses need gasoline and heating oil to function. Businesses therefore try to cover their increased gasoline and heating oil costs by raising their prices.

COP26 Corporate Sponsors: A Barrier To A Just Transition

By Earth Strike UK - Earth Strike, February 18, 2022

In November last year, representatives and leaders of most of the world’s governments met in Glasgow to discuss how to respond to the climate crisis, and hopefully make a deal that would save us from the worst effects of climate change. They failed. While the conference did end with an agreement, it was not sufficient to keep global temperature rises below 1.5°C.

COP26 was supported by a wide variety of major multinational corporations, whose involvement, if not directly responsible for the failure of the conference, at least gives an insight into the deeply flawed approach of those in power that did ultimately result in COP26 (and every other climate conference before it) ending so disastrously.

Twenty three corporations are listed as supporting the conference in some capacity, either as Principal Partners, Partners, or Providers. These corporate sponsors provided financial support as well as services in kind. While it’s difficult to know how much each of these corporations paid, we know that their contributions did not go unrewarded.

In exchange, they received a variety of perks in the form of publicity, networking and marketing opportunities. This is most apparent for the eleven Principal Partners, whose logos feature on the COP26 website, appearing at the bottom of almost every page. This is all in addition to the marketing and promotional material they created for themselves.

The Principal Partners were given exhibition space inside the ‘green zone’, the part of the conference that was accessible to the public, as well as the opportunity to hold events as part of the official green zone program.

The business case for being a COP sponsor is clear, and has little to do with effecting genuine, meaningful change. Sponsorship of COP26 was an opportunity for corporations to present themselves as environmentally conscious (softening their image and maybe gaining an edge with environmentally minded consumers), while also allowing them to guide climate and environmental policy in a way that is profitable to them.

Despite their involvement in COP26, and their apparent desire to address the climate crisis, these corporations continue to produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. A recent investigation by the Ferret, an independent non-profit media cooperative in Scotland, found that the eleven Principal Partners alone were responsible for 350 million tonnes of C02 emissions in 2020, more than the total produced within the UK that year — although the companies claim that some of these emissions may have been counted more than once.

The sponsors claim to have bold plans for decarbonisation. They also point towards reductions in CO2 emissions they have already made, however these reductions are not always what they seem.

Take the case of Scottish Power. It proudly claims that all the energy it generates comes from wind power, however it achieved this by selling its fossil fuel investments to Drax, which runs the highly polluting biomass power station in Yorkshire, for £702 million in 2018. In effect, not only did Scottish Power fail to reduce the total amount of carbon emissions being produced, but profited from its continuation.

The fact that environmental destruction can be obscured by the sale of fossil fuel assets from one corporation to another proves that the corporate sponsors cannot be viewed in isolation. They are all part of a self-sustaining and self-reinforcing network of capitalism. Even if we were to accept Scottish Power’s claim of only producing renewable energy, we should remember that it is a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola, which has built four new gas power plants in Mexico since 2019.

Likewise, Microsoft has committed to go “carbon negative” by 2030, meaning that it would pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than it emits. This pledge is significantly undermined by the services it provides to the oil and gas industry. In 2019, Microsoft partnered with the oil giant ExxonMobil to provide software to improve the efficiency of its operations in the Permian Basin oil field. It is estimated that Microsoft services could allow ExxonMobil to extract 50,000 more barrels of oil per day by 2025 than it otherwise would have.

DLA Piper, a multinational legal firm and COP26 provider, likes to boast its support for corporate environmental initiatives, decarbonisation and the renewable energy industry. But it also provides direct practical support for the oil, gas and mining industries through legal representation and consultancy. DLA Piper enables oil and gas exploration, extraction and transportation by supporting licensing bids, financing, asset acquisition, arbitration, and dispute resolution within the industry.

Multinational corporations operate in a complex network of capital, tied together by ownership, commerce and consultancy. Even if at first glance a corporation doesn’t seem to be harmful, it still plays its part in keeping the process going.

Green Union Organizing: Avoiding the "Jobs versus Environment" Trap

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2022

Note to readers: the intended audience for this piece includes environmental justice activists and/or workers sympathetic to them (and it should go without saying that there may be some overlap between the two):

As the climate and ecological crises deepen front line and working class communities are rising up to oppose the continued capitalist extractivism that continues to render their communities, homes, and sacred lands in to sacrifice zones.

Although this is not a new phenomena, it has been happening more and more. Typically, one of the favorite tricks in the capitalist playbook is to mobilize their employees--very often unionized employees, particularly those represented by conservative [2] business unions [1]--to parrot their corporate talking points, (at public hearings or in various forms of media) and usually these frame the issue as one of community and environment versus workers and jobs. Usually such spin is mostly false, but often the conservative business union officials and the rank file members buy into it. To make matters worse, the mainstream press, which inevitably serves capitalist interests, dutifly repeats and spreads the narrative. Such efforts are intended to isolate the community opposition, and either induce agencies, tasked with regulating the corporations in question, to take the corporate side, or--more likely--to provide cover for regulators already tacitly under industry capture to affirm their favorability towards the industry. The bosses know this trick often works, and they have been using it for over a half century. The trick isn't infallible, however, and this text is intended as a beginning guide on neutralizing its effects.

The Gentrification of the Rural West

By Ryanne Pilgeram - In These Times, February 4, 2022

Most of the windows in the Dover, Idaho community hall face old Dover, still looking over the original mill workers’ houses and church that were transported upriver in 1922. Slipping into the kitchen and peering out the back window, however, is a reminder of how much Dover has changed. In the 1950s, it would have looked at a tangle of trees, then a deep meadow in the distance, and the community’s sandy beach just beyond that. Later, the view would include massive piles of woodchips, the birch trees providing some cover between the building and graying piles of sawdust.

Today, there’s a walking path that skirts the back of the community hall and, beyond that, brand-new homes. Dozens of buildings, from condominiums to bungalows to massive mansions, now sit in the fields where the mill once stood. Adorned with natural wood shingles and crisp white trim, the homes share a similar architectural style, meant to evoke the craftsman style that was popular when the buildings of old Dover were floating up the river. But the homes are unmistakably modern in their attempt to blend the ruggedness of the Pacific Northwest with the comforts of upper-middle-class living.

Lining freshly paved streets, the new homes nestle against the development’s headquarters, which features a fitness club and an upscale restaurant. The development was approved in 2004 after a lengthy and contentious struggle with the inhabitants of old Dover. Since then, new Dover has brought waves of new people to the community, drawn by the scenic beauty (and recreational potential) of the river and adjoining lake. 

When looking out the window of the old Dover community hall, the new homes are so close, it seems like you might be able to peer inside them. But the new homes are built with their backs to the community center so that they can face the lake and river. 

And so it is: old and new, back to back, a path winding between them. 

The Real Crisis Threatening Ukraine isn’t a Russian Invasion or US backed NATO Imperialism. It’s Capitalism

By Javier Sethness - The Commoner, January 27, 2022

published on The Commoner, 27 January 2022

This exclusive interview with Assembly, a magazine based in Ukraine, provides a fresh, on-the-ground perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Writers from Assembly have published articles with The Commoner before, which you can find here. You may otherwise find their website here.

Comrades, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We very much enjoyed your recent article in The Commoner, ‘The Time Has Come?’, about ongoing socio-economic resistance in Ukraine.

Today, the world looks on in horror as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military is amassing over a hundred-thousand troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. These forces are reportedly composed of sixty battalion tactical groups (BTG’s), including Spetznatz special forces, hundreds of tanks, and dozens of ballistic-missile units—not to mention either the Black Sea Fleet or aerial forces. Although Ukraine gained formal independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has repeatedly expressed nostalgia for Tsarist and Soviet imperialism, while Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has long belittled the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Currently, the UK is selling light anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, while the US has supplied billions of dollars in military aid to the country since 2014, when the Russian military occupied and annexed Crimea. Some media sources suggest that Putin has not yet decided whether to order the invasion, which could spark the most destructive conflict in Europe since World War II, even if Ukraine is not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Now, following a breakdown in negotiations, President Joe Biden is reportedly considering sending thousands of NATO troops to the Baltic countries.

We Will Build the Future: A Plan to Save the Planet

By various - Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, January 10, 2022

The most scandalous fact of the current period is that 2.37 billion people are struggling to eat. Most of them are in developing countries, but many are in advanced industrial states. Governments in developed countries say that there is not enough money to abolish hunger or any of the other afflictions of the modern era, whether it be illiteracy, ill health, or homelessness. However, during the pandemic, the central banks of these countries conjured up $16 trillion to protect the wavering capitalist system. Resources were readily available to save firms, but not to save hungry people: that is the moral compass of our times.

In this period, the research institutes of the capitalist states have set up new entities and published a slew of reports offering supposed remedies to ‘save capitalism’. Among these new institutions are the Council for Inclusive Capitalism (whose partners include the Bank of England and the Vatican) and the B Corporation Movement. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Financial Times have made the case for a ‘great reset’ to make capitalism ‘more inclusive’. ‘The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world’, says WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. Those who have brought us to the threshold of extinction and annihilation claim that they know how to fix our world. As expected, their ‘inclusive capitalism’ offers no clear programme, nothing beyond empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile, in mid-2021, twenty-six research institutes from around the world began to meet and discuss the production of a draft programme to address the current crisis. Under the leadership of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), our meetings produced a document called A Plan to Save the Planet. That plan is published in this dossier. It is intended for discussion and debate.

Read the text (PDF).

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

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