Category: Activism

The new labour struggle: less work, same pay, and basic income for all

SINCE the 19th century May 1 has been International Worker’s Day, chosen by organised labour to celebrate the contribution of workers around the world. But it’s frequently forgotten that the day actually celebrates a particular achievement of the labour movement: being able to do less work. Not better paid or decent work, but shorter working hours.

May 1 initially commemorated the 1886 Haymarket affair, where Chicago workers were striking for a radical and dangerous proposal: the eight-hour work day. This idea was so incendiary that the protests turned violent; both police and protesters died in the conflict.

Today more and more people around the world are facing precarity, casualisation, inequality and unemployment. It’s time to pursue a new agenda for a new global labour movement – or rather, to update the old agenda of the 19th century: less working time and more money for all, in the form of shorter work days and a universal basic income.

What happened to the struggle?

An eight-hour work day and weekends off were far from the norm for most full-time workers before the early 20th century. They usually worked 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. It took a protracted, often violent organised labour struggle in the face of strenuous opposition to change that.

Forty-hour work weeks were finally legislated around the world less than a century ago. This seemed like just the beginning. The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that thanks to technology, within a century we’d all stop worrying about subsistence. We’d work 15 hours a week, just enough to keep us from getting bored.

In some ways he was right. Technological advancement has exceeded his wildest dreams; productivity and output per worker has soared. But this has proven to be our problem rather than a source of liberation.

As productivity grew and each worker could produce ever more output, we consumed more and more stuff so that full time, 40-hour-a-week employment could stay stable. Now we’ve reached our limits, with climate change, pollution, deforestation and extinction spiralling out of control. We can’t afford to keep consuming ever more.

We’ve also moved into a different phase of automation, a “fourth industrial revolution” where artificial intelligence and machine learning can do the work of accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

The logical solution would be to enjoy such automation by working less (while the amount of stuff produced remains the same with machines’ help). Instead, those of us lucky enough to be formally employed still work nominally 40-hour weeks (in reality too often working far more) while ever more people can’t find any steady employment.

The fruits of soaring productivity growth and the wealth generated by automation are not being redistributed via rising salaries or shorter working hours. Instead they are captured by a tiny global elite. The richest 1% now has more wealth than the rest of the world put together. Yet there isn’t a mass organised struggle explicitly calling for a redistribution of wealth and work.

It’s time to revive a very old labour ideal. Industrial Workers of the World/www.iww.org

Instead, in places as varied as South Africa, the US and Europe increasingly frustrated, alienated populations faced with the rise of precarious work and wage stagnation point their finger at foreigners and immigrants. Their calls are not for redistribution, but for isolation and xenophobic exclusion.

South Africa is a prime example of this contradiction. It’s the most unequal major country in the world, with staggering wealth and unemployment rates. It has experienced years of deindustrialisation and jobless growth.

South Africa is experiencing the sorts of contradictions that follow in automation’s wake. Factory and even service jobs are being automated, and CEOs earn 541 times the average income. Meanwhile, people desperate for a wage resort to what anthropologist David Graeber terms “bullshit jobs” like pumping other people’s petrol or watching their parked cars.

South Africa’s inequality isn’t just a matter of income or wealth. It’s also a matter of working hours – some people have too many, some none at all.

From labour to leisure

An obvious solution would be to cut back on the standard work week so that demand for labour goes up.

Education institutions would have to scramble to fill some of the demand for skilled workers. But the pressure might be a good thing. It would push the school system to produce well-equipped graduates, and provide new solutions to problems such as the university fee crisis, spurring greater urgency for the state or private sector to underwrite higher education programmes.

This would also decrease inequality. The only way to keep wages the same while hiring more people is for wealth to get spread out: for the highest earners and others who capture the fruits of corporate profits (i.e., shareholders) to get less so workers get more.

Shortening working hours has also been linked with a host of other social goods like better health outcomes, less impact on the environment, higher gender equity, and increased happiness and productivity.

Labour must also be decommodified more broadly. Then even those unable to sell their labour in a rapidly automating world would reap some of automation’s fruits.

The simplest proposal to achieve this is the universal basic income guarantee: the idea that everyone gets enough cash every month to cover essential living costs, no matter what. It’s a redistributory measure. If you earn enough to not need it, you give it back to the communal pot when paying your taxes.

If that aspect is taken into account, the proposal is surprisingly affordable. It could also end poverty, stem inequality, enable work that isn’t valued by capitalist markets (such as care work or the arts), and empower workers to bargain for better conditions without the fear of starvation or homelessness.

What we need are shorter working hours and a universal basic income. In other words, a leisure movement – not a labour movement.

Radical, and attainable

Such a call is both radical and attainable. It’s attainable because it simply spreads out the gains from productivity growth. It’s radical because we live with the cultural ramifications of centuries of labour scarcity, when everyone had to work as much as possible to produce enough goods to go around. That’s not the case anymore, yet the old mentality remains: hard workers are morally superior, and laziness is unquestioningly a character flaw, a moral failing.

This is a default assumption not only among the middle and upper classes, but as my own and others’ recent research in South Africa and Namibia shows, among the unemployed poor as well.

This proposal is also radical because it challenges the unopposed accumulation of wealth amongst a small elite. It will certainly be opposed by the very wealthy. But then, so were calls for a 40-hour work week.

Via: The Conversation

Rachel Dysphoria, the Dolezal visit to South Africa

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Disorder or Non-Conformity?

CONTROVERSIAL advocate of ‘racial fluidity’ and ‘trans-racialism’  is to visit South Africa according to the BBC, to promote her biography, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World . The arrival of Rachel Dolezal is bound to kick up a storm in the ongoing debate being waged between non-racialists and multi-racialists. The latest round has seen non-racialists being accused of hiding behind a smokescreen of privilege, effectively using the idea to escape responsibility for past injustices.

Non-racialism is the result of successive ideological developments within South African politics, beginning with Robert Sobukwe’s claim at his treason trial: “There is only one race, the human race” and “multiracialism is racism multiplied”; This was followed by Steve Biko’s historic 1971 statement: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation — being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

The ANC, once a champion of multiracialism, adopted the non-racial agenda after Nelson Mandela was converted to the cause on Robben Island. According to Mandela, ‘race was to be rendered immaterial’, ‘all persons were to enjoy equality before the law’. That the current administration gives such nuances of non-racialism and equality lip-service (both ideas enshrined in the country’s constitution) can be seen in the abundance of one ethnic group in the latest cabinet, all given preferential treatment under the current Kwazula-Natal focused administration of Jacob Zuma — this while race classification issues and the legacy of apartheid continue to dog the regime.

This writer is currently under sanctions by a local court for denying his appointed ‘race category’, following an offensive race-testing probe by an apartheid media firm. Remarkably, critics of Dolezal, appear to judge her case on the basis of special criteria (see below), in the same way that a special clause, known as the Sobukwe clause was added to legislation in order to justify the founder of the PAC’s continued incarceration. It should be remembered the apartheid regime insisted on the existence of discrete racial categories and thus racial bias in a system supported by scientific racism. There is no scientific basis for the assertion that race exists as anything more than an informal taxonomy.

Critics of non-racialism often confuse issues of class exploitation and poverty. While South Africa is an example of a tragic ‘confluence of race and class’, in which persons labelled black are more likely to be poor, (and dramatically so) there is no direct correlation as such, which would make this a universal rule. As science shows, adaptive traits such as hair and skin colour are not indicative of a separation between the species, there is thus no direct correlation between one’s genes and one’s physical appearance, and being wealthy and being poor. In other words historic racism is not the same as institutional racism. Blackness is not the result of a preponderance of African ancestry, if this were so, Native Americans for instance, would be white.

Attempts to define people according to physical features and anatomy have invariably resulted in discrimination.  One should thus not mistake the impact of past exploitation on the basis of race criteria, for normality, and in so doing, assert that race criteria is or should be the norm. The ‘racial wealth gap’ is not overcome by resorting to more racism.

That the strange idea persists can be seen by a recent comment this week: “Race is real the way maths is real. It’s something humans created that can be used to our detriment or to our advantage.” The assertion without any evidence, was made by a reporter associated with The Citizen in an online debate on social media on Friday, following the breaking of the Dolezal story, and is consistent with the position of Media24. One can only respond: “There is no ‘maths of race’. The only persons making such statements have been discredited eugenicists.

Another participant in the discussion, was even harsher in her use of irony: “Please come to South Africa and enjoy the full experience which the majority of black woman endure. There are plenty of overworked maid jobs with below the breadline pay …” The various criticisms of Dolezal, that she is effectively ‘trading off the misery of others’, is ‘passing herself off’ as something which she is not, and is ‘guilty of cultural appropriation’, need to be seen within the context of similar criticisms of Mother Teresa and others. The criticism has no basis nor place in human rights law. Cultural appropriation (in whatever form) is a factor of life in a polyglot, globalised society, one remarkably difference from the former colonial empire, based as it was on ideals of racial purity and for which cross-pollination itself was anathema. That Dolezal herself is breaking taboos within the so-called white community from which she sprung, is hardly remarked upon by opinion-makers slamming her membership of the NAACP.

That body presentation and identity issues are par for the course in the 21st Century can be seen by the fact that nobody would think the unthinkable and slam albino model Thandi Hopa for not having enough melanin, and trading off the resulting racial dysphoria. Instead in Rachel’s case, her attempts to deal with her ‘black experience’ , resulted in an obscene racial witch-hunt, and highly public race-probe based upon discredited apartheid race science. Doleza says that “challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness”

Dolezal has an adopted black brother Izaiah , and a black child from a black man. To put this in a nut-shell, Rachel isn’t “pretending to be black”, her life is not a parody as in ‘blackface’, but rather the result of attempting to deal with her existence, in particular her troubling relationship with her brother Ezra. The mix of reactions around the globe is certainly unprecedented, and indicative of a new far-right discourse which has entered the mainstream.

It will be interesting to see how Dolezal presents herself to an audience remarkably different from the one which pilloried her femininity and for which her latest biography is her considered response. Medialternatives therefore takes this opportunity to unreservedly welcome Rachel to South Africa.

Medialternatives has followed the Dolezal story and you can read previous postings here.

Dagga legalisation, correcting an historical wrong

Screenshot_2017-04-02_11-51-21DEAR older generation. You were wrong about apartheid, you were wrong about same-sex marriage, and you were wrong about dagga. When the Western Cape High Court affirmed the rights of all citizens to the use and cultivation of dagga in the privacy of our own homes, thus suspending the drug laws for two years and allowing Parliament to amend the legislation, it corrected an historical wrong committed by the past regime.

The first law prohibiting the sale of dagga was put in motion by the colonial authorities in 1910. Following racist campaigns against the plant in America by William Randolf Hearst, who believed the use of dagga resulted in fraternisation between the races, in particular the scourge of white women consorting with black men, the world saw the roll-out of laws aimed at limiting dagga use. South Africa thus became a signatory to various international conventions, each one reducing the scope of the plant’s use, until the final scheduling of the plant alongside Heroin and other hard drugs.

Dagga use was thus synonymous with the counter-culture surrounding the anti-apartheid movement, in turn the apartheid state pilloried activists as mere ‘drug-users’ wanting to create mayhem to overthrow the state. Law and order was thus contingent upon the banning of people’s consciousness and our innate rights to freedom of thought. Alongside the Botha government’s Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the narc squad and thought police, armed with an ideology supplied by the NGK, which had decreed race segregation to be divinely inspired by God and the Afrikaner grip over the African hinterland to be the result of a “Covenant at Blood River”.

When the ANC finally came into power, there was every indication that dagga-smoking revolutionaries were going to legalise the herb whilst recognising the contribution to the struggle by the Jamaican Defense Force. Instead, activists like Trevor Manual exchanged their berets, dashikis and the proverbial stash, for bespoke suits, champagne and cognac. The transformation of the liberation movement into a political bureaucracy built upon corporate largesse meant that adopting the white man’s laws alongside those UN conventions supporting prohibition was now paramount.

All of this toenadering came tumbling down this week, as the Zuma administration revealed itself to be nothing more than a personal fiefdom without the support of the party, and as the President fired half his cabinet, retaining the controversial Bathabile Dlamini, the burial of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada turned into a platform for criticism, then private dagga use was suddenly given the greenlight.

It was thus a momentous moment on Friday which saw the supporters of the Dagga Party and Gareth Prince, celebrating outside the High court. The ruling by three judges overtook political events and removed the wind from of the sails of those kind souls hoping that a parallel legislative process surrounding the use of medical marijuana would finally lead to a new regulatory environment, albeit over the slow pace of the coming decades.

The Medical Innovations Act, whose regulations are still being discussed, certainly opens the door, moving the plant from the domain of criminal law to that of public health, but the decision of the Western Cape High Court meant that constitutional considerations and private use, in particular harm reduction, will be paramount. It is merely a formality that the decision will be confirmed by the ConCourt. The ruling does not allow for the sale of the plant and only affects private use.

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Spike following publication of this article, 250 unique hits and counting

Has the environmental movement failed?

THE announcement of a green-light to Karoo fracking couldn’t have come at a worse time. The very same week, saw the world pummelled by kill the environment ideologue Donald Trump, who two days ago, scrapped Obama climate change policies. Thus Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was merely walking in the footsteps of Trump’s anti-Earth agenda on Thursday when he made the announcement that could see a less than 10 year resource opened to exploitation by international gas companies at the same time that it jeopardises future generations.

Agriculture and water resources will be affected far longer than the short-term gains to be had. The sudden surge in development projects of dubious origin, but with major environmental consequences, alongside the rush to strip away environmental protections under NEMA, itself watered down by a Ministerial override, is an insult to the guarantees of Earth rights in our constitution, and can be seen as short-term business interests being put ahead of sustainable development goals.

This week also saw strange announcements by Eskom that it was contemplating revisiting its failed PBMR programme which had already gobbled up some R10bn of taxpayers money with nothing to show except a few fat physicists. As the townships remained underserviced and households in Cape Town were being told to save water, the Minister was encouraging the abuse of precious water resources in the Karoo, while Eskom, the national power utility was getting ready for another bout of atomic spend without so much as concern for consumer safety.

The Trumpist drumbeat appears to have taken the Zuma administration by storm, as if suddenly the mantra of ‘ecological sustainability” crucial to South Africa’s unique development path, was no longer so relevant. Does this mean there is now a Planet B? And those melting polar ice sheets are nothing to worry about? The sudden dash back to a previous age of coal and steam, oil and gas guzzling consumer excess is what is most attractive to the likes of Zuma and his neoliberal agenda. Time to start talking in earnest about ecocide?

SEE Ivo Vegter’s Rampant Denialism

Correspondent’s misapplication of law does struggle for human rights a disservice

IN the annual search for a silver bullet solution to the Middle East problem, activists are rushed into reductionist conclusions. In the process open intellectual inquiry, debate and analysis about the conflict closes down. The resulting dogma and political correctness undermines the struggle for human rights.

In a recent piece, published by IOL, correspondent Azad Essa claims: “Not everyone agrees with the Israeli apartheid terminology, despite its rising legitimacy among many academics and scholars in the field. As a contentious analogy, the UN had never – until last week – officially called it apartheid.”

The statement by Essa is only partially true, since in 1975 the UN did in fact issue a resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. However after the end of the Cold War, the same UN general assembly issued a resolution 46/86, (adopted on 16 December 1991), reversing its earlier resolution. Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.””

The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”

That news-hounds can’t be bothered to do their homework, verifying the facts, can be seen by the persistent belief amongst many activists that resolution 3379 is still in force. A 2015 piece by Ben Norton of Mondoweiss, for example, a news outlet exposed as a purveyor of ‘alternative facts’, (i.e. facts which are not true), proceeded to ignore the revocation, and myopically accuses both the United States and Israel of wanting to rewrite history of a resolution which in any event, is null and void.

Until last week, the equation of Israel’s existence with ‘racism and racial domination’, was considered a foregone conclusion, an emerging fact of international law. This week, things were no longer so certain. The problem arose when a controversial report by a UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) equating Zionism with apartheid, and touted by IOL as definitive of the problem, was suddenly shelved, albeit from intense political pressure. Continue reading

Letter to Editors

Dear Ed,

As a hostage to the conflict being waged by conservatives on either side, I wish to once again place on record my objections to the war in the Middle East. In particular the internecine, sectarian conflict involving members of various faith groups, who refuse to recognise the rights of secularists such as myself.

The conflict is clearly a long-standing, religious-based conflict involving the deployment of displacement theology by either side, in the battle over identity and the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by many religions.

I also wish to reiterate my objections to the separation barrier and my rejection of the so-called ‘right of return’ on the basis of my Jewish ancestry, placed on record shortly after the wall was built in 2000, and published prominently in the Israeli media.

As a secular humanistic Jew and subscriber to the principles of the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment. The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.

As a struggle veteran and war resister, I also wish to remind my fellow South Africans of my objections to the rationalisations of members of the IDF, in a combined ECC-IDF platform on UCT campus during 1987, and also the continued dispute involving my Jewish identity recorded in the decision of a South African court, and involving offensive race testing.

Apartheid, and its sequel in the new South Africa, should never be used as the justification for domination by one group over another, nor should its motivations be forgotten. Dialogue and compromise by all sides, is the only way forward. As objectors on both sides have shown, another reality is possible.

Let peace prevail on earth.

[Letter published in South African Jewish Report]

Ivo Vegter’s rampant denialism

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A Breitbart Trump Manifesto?

THAT people like Ivo Vegter get given column space on the strength of an untested book purporting to debunk campaigns against fracking, nuclear power, climate change and environmentalism in general, is a sign of the insatiable rise of right-wing politics, of the kind that has lead to the ascendency of  President Donald Trump. In Vegter’s latest missive published by Daily Maverick, the columnist makes the bold claim that “Rich environmentalists oppress poor people.”

In order to support his thesis, he refers to campaigns to save the Sumatran Tiger and rainforest habitat in Indonesia, the battle to counter deforestation, and a supposedly “alarmist film” by one Leonardo de Caprio, whom Vegter labels variously, a “climate change hypocrite” and a rich celebrity with a ‘carbon footprint the size of small countries’ who has merely ‘poked his nose into the fight’.

De Caprio’s film Before the Flood  about climate change and presented by National Geographic was an official selection at both the Toronto and London Film festivals. In comparison Vegter’s 2012 book “Extreme Environment: How Environmental Exaggeration Harms Emerging Economies” failed to make any notable book lists and hardly ranks in terms of global sales.

Vegter’s writing has been labelled as “staggeringly naïve and shoddy research“, “elastic research“,” a man who passes himself off as an environmental journalist, but consistently backs the right of those with money and power to destroy the environment” and a “cherry-picker of facts“.

After poo-pooing De Caprio’s fact-finding epic, Vegter turns to geothermal energy, making the point that instead of being seen as a good thing by environmentalists, such projects, particularly in Indonesia, have raised the ire of earth-centric activists wanting to save habitat from human intervention. David Attenborough is thus chief on Vegters hit-list, as any deep green ecologist would be — one who places a higher value on ecosystems than human beings in general and who is thus opposed to our supposed God-given right to destroy nature.

Hence what can only be termed a rather limp but convoluted preface, tame in comparison to earlier postings, (the man’s writing has spawned a veritable cottage industry of conspiracy theory), begins Vegter’s perennial opining on the subject:

“Environmentalists often try to appeal to our common-sense instincts to preserve our world from harm. Nobody would dispute that a healthy, productive environment is desirable, and indeed essential for continued human welfare and prosperity.

“However, in their zeal to oppose environmental degradation, environmentalists routinely overstate their case. When infrastructure or other development projects are proposed, their knee-jerk reaction is to object, and never give ground. Instead of seeking to minimise harm, they insist that no environmental price is worth the benefit of development.

“There are strong incentives for environmentalists to become fundamentalist extremists, who brook no human development that might disturb a supposedly pristine environment. To understand why, allow me to propose four possible motivations: environmentalism as a religion, environmentalism as a political tool, environmentalism as sensationalism, and environmentalism as an industry.”

That Vegter willfully misstates the case, is unable to tackle apartheid and related environmental issues in his own backyard, and thus resorts to cherry-picking issues half-way around the world, issues that readers do not have any immediate interest in the outcome of events, save from what they see on their Nature television screens, is par for the course, for a man who lost the debate on Fracking and Fukushima. Vegter painfully misjudged the geology of the Karoo, made spurious claims without any science about Fukushima, supported Big Oil at the expense of Water, and continues to disregard the environmental struggles of millions of South Africans living in the townships.

His characterisation of environmentalists as nothing less than ‘wealthy oppressors’, must be rejected as insulting and offensive to all activists on the ground struggling for a healthy environment and better conditions for all humans living on the Earth. This week, saw a major climate victory for Earthlife Africa, an organisation with a predominantly black membership, and thus an organisation which carries my DNA, and notably, one to which I contributed its founding charter and principles. Part of the story of the rise of ELA and environmental activism during apartheid can be read here.

While there is no dispute regarding the need for criticism — yes, white conservationists were considered fair game during the dark days of apartheid, and I published profusely on the subject, forcing the Wildlife Society to become the Wildlife and Environment Society  — and since as I argued, human beings were intimately part of the habitat, thus saving our climate and ending apartheid, was equally important, both for wildlife and all human beings, especially those who lacked clean water and basic sanitation — Vegter goes too far in his own extreme, and one should add, obnoxious alt-right point of view.

The convoluted dispatch from the self-proclaimed “never wrong” pundit (read: Never right), may also be considered a form of back-peddling, for in admitting the need for some form of environmentalism in geothermal energy, and thus in part a recognition of the energy debate central to climate change, and ergo, a part revision of an objectionable thesis, Vegter’s borrowed critique of shallow environmentalism, not all environmentalism per se, is in reality, an attempt to destroy the environmental movement by incorporating some of its own ideology and criticism.

Thus like the Rupert’s who wish to be seen as pioneers of transfrontier parks, without dealing with their contribution to apartheid, Vegter’s sudden sympathy for the poor, in essence greenwashing, cannot masque an otherwise abysmal career as a proponent of resource exploitation. Such nitpicking is unlikely to bother the strong non-racial green movement which has arisen post-COP17, nor will it remove the guarantees of Earth Rights in our constitution, and the campaign for the inclusion of ecological sustainable development, of which I was one of the authors.

Vegter’s latest views, therefore need to be discarded as nothing less than fallacious and false argument, the utterings of a dyed in the wool racist, and the work of an opponent of science. One has merely to review the latest debates around the Anthropocene, and certainly, my view is that we appear to be at the end of this geological era (1). Far from being “monopolisers of truth” environmentalists, are deploying science – evidence-based research and empirical data in their campaign to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change. Ivo the Terrible, on the other hand, appears to offer nothing more than a theological counter-point, providing a hazardous litany of argument — one of many, self-ordained saints of alt-speak making a quick buck out of roasting the green movement.

(1) NOTE: See this documentary on the great Permian extinction. A 5 degree increase in global temperature caused by massive release of CO2 albeit via basalt eruption and volcanic activity was enough to extinguish all life on the planet. The documentary makes the apt point that the increase in global temperature resulted in the melting of methane hydrate (CH4·5.75H2O) on the ocean floor and thus the release of CH4 which resulted in a further 5 degree increase in global temperature, a trophic cascade if ever there was one.

SEE: Top Ten global warming skeptic arguments debunked