Saturday, January 31, 2009

New from the folks at Labour Start, the online labour solidarity site, comes the social networking site for unionists Union Book. Here's the announcement.

UnionBook - the social networking website for trade unionists‏:
Labour Start is pleased to announce the launch today of UnionBook - the social networking website for trade unionists.
Unlike other social networking sites, UnionBook ( is advertising-free, respects your privacy, and is specifically designed to serve trade unionists.
UnionBook offers many features that you and your union will find useful. Among these are:
* Blogs - build your own blog today. Free, with no ads.
* Groups - create a group to support your union and your campaigns.Groups
can have discussion forums and shared documents. They can be public or closed.
They're a very powerful tool.
* Post your profile and sign up your friends.
And we're adding more features all the time.
We know that UnionBook will never be as big as the giant commercial networks like Facebook, but once we have several thousand trade unionists using it, I'm confident that it will become a powerful tool for our movement worldwide.
We're not telling anyone to stop using other social networks. If you are active in Facebook or any of the others, that's fine. But use UnionBook for your trade union activities and see how easy it is to build and form groups, and to publish content online.
Once you've signed up, you will receive an email from us - you must respond to this in order to confirm your email address and activate your account. Our email message may wind up in your junk mail folder - please keep an eye out for it.
Please spend some time on and explore the possibilities.
And then spread the word -- because together, we can create something amazing here. Thanks. Eric Lee

The following essay is from the Icelandic anarchist site Aftaka, and it summarizes the thoughts of Icelandic anarchists on the recent events in their country.
The Icelandic Government has Collapsed… and then what?:

A letter from Icelandic anarchists who have taken part in the revolt against the recently collapsed government.
The Icelandic Government has collapsed and some people talk about a revolution. In a way it is true. Ordinary people overthrew this neoliberal government by writing articles, holding speeches, noise demonstrations, bonfires, car horns, direct action, civil disobedience and minor sabotage. A nation that before had hardly put up any resistance to abuse of power for a long time, finally stood up and said: “No thanks! No more shit!”

But what will follow? Have we reached the ultimate goal? Is the minority government of the Left Greens (Vinstri Grænir) and the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) enough? Are we just going to settle for new elections this spring?

From the beginning of the economic crisis, following the collapse and nationalization of the three major Icelandic business banks, loud voices have been heard, demanding that the government would resign and elections would take place as soon as possible. The same voices have as well demanded that the boards of the financial institutions would step down; in the Central Bank, Financial Supervisory Authority (FME) and the three recent state owned banks. Hörður Torfason and his fellows from the organization ‘The People’s Voices’ (Raddir Fólksins) took the first step by organizing weekly demonstrations where fiery speeches were held, followed by the public’s jubilation and increasing radicalization.

At the same time more militant actions have taken place. Anarchists and other radicals have used direct actions, tried to stop the government from having meetings, stopped formal parliament meetings, attacked the police station and disrupted work in the banks and the Financial Supervisory Authority. These two formations than came together on Tuesday last week, January 20th, when thousands of people gathered by the parliament with the aim to disrupt and hopefully cut the first parliamentary session of the new year – and did so. During the next seven days bonfires, industrial samba-bands and noise demonstrations became daily events.

The pre-event of this collaboration of radicals and the “ordinary” citizens was by Hotel Borg on the last day of the year, where protesters cut a live broadcast of an annual party political TV show where the heads of the political parties discuss the recent political year over champagne and spicy herring. The original plan of the protest was to disrupt the broadcast with noise and torches, but soon it became clear that that it would not happen without people taking a further step. So people climbed over gates and when trying to enter the hotel were engaged in scuffles with cops which sprayed them with pepperspray. Finally they manged to pull apart and burn the transmission cables and cut off the broadcast. It was a good start and set the tone for the new year’s protests.

There was an prominent common slogan during the demonstrations over the last weeks that resounded over the city for a whole week: “Disqualified government!” But this slogan says nothing about what was about to come, what people want else than just getting the government away. The main demands were that the government step down, that the board of the Central Bank resign, that the FME resign, that election would held as soon as possible and that corruption and abuse of power be stopped.

Tuesday 20 January saw major clashes, and liberal peppersprayings and baton usage by cops, outside the Parliament when thousands turned up to disrupt the first session of Parliament in the new year. These protests continued throughout the night and into the following Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning, after the police had shot numerous teargas bombs into the protesters, the crowd moved to the nearby Government’s offices. Once again people lit a bonfire and protested against the government. When the police turned up some people started throwing bricks at the cops like before that same evening. At one point an angry man walked up to the police, who was well armed with shields, helmets, clubs and pepper spray, and threw a stone at them while shouting: “Just give us a chance to vote, then these protests will stop.”

These words came as a surprise to a lot of people. “Just give us the chance to vote!” Is that really the main demand? And does it make one so angry not to be allowed to vote, that throwing stones becomes the tactic to propel elections?

Of course, there are different opinions and ideas about what the planned elections this spring will lead to. Some people believe it is enough to vote for the Left Greens, that it will lead to positive changes. Others believe that it is possible to change the system from inside, want to push forward new political parties in the upcoming elections, which will than hopefully draw the lines of changes in the constitution and the system. Even others want to discontinue the tyranny of the party-system and encourage individuals’ candidatures, direct democracy and major changes to the constitution.

These ideas have one thing in common, they are all based on the idea that reforms inside the current system are steps in the right directions, steps towards a more just society. They do not demand radical changes – revolution. Therefore it is strange to see people standing on Austurvöllur (the square in front of the parliament) shouting slogans like “Long live the revolution!” – no revolution has taken place apart from the fact that the government has collapsed.

When we will get closer to the upcoming elections we can expect the same thing as usual. The political parties will lounge their image campaigns, compete in advertising, which has the best designers and computer technique. That’s how it is always. And then there is one thing that matters: Money. Those who have the most money or the political party that has the best access to money is going to be the most visible force in the election campaign. And the same story will continue if the elections will be between individuals instead of parties. While we stay inside the system, that we have lived in until now, individuals’ results will be based only on who has the most money to spend.

The reasons for the collapse of the government and the debate about it show very well what today’s politics are about. Sjálfstæðisflokkurin (The Independence Party, neoliberal conservatives) refused to fire Davíð Oddsson from the board of the Central Bank, because of his fearsome hold on society and individuals in the party. (He is widely believed to wield a ‘Black book’ with records over the corruption of a huge number of people.) Even though he is hidden in the Central Bank, he still sits on the top – or at least sat there before the collapse - of the Icelandic power base. Fearing the impact of firing Oddsson from the Central Bank, the Independence Party found themselves in a cul-de-sac. Therefore it is going to be extremely interesting to see if a new government will dare to fire Oddsson and what impact it will have on the Icelandic society, since it is clear the Oddsson has a serious capacity of literaly blackmailing sizable segments of Icelandic society.

The two parties – The Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance – were locked in arguments about which of them should get the prime ministry. This was enough to split the coalition. The collapse of the government is a result of endless power mongering that has nothing to do with creating a society based on justice and equality, freedom and co-operation. It is not about trying to create a healthy society, but first and only about gaining power to further the interests and accumulation of wealth by different parts of the corporate structures.

This power mongering exposes the politics and shows even better what its about: A competition about popularity and power; untruth and treachery against those who have no power; those who are oppressed from the beginning of their lives through the education system and other systems of the society. Politics is a game of lies.

We have to resist this game and this corrupt system. This resistance is the premise for changes.

If we want new changes we have to turn our backs on the past and use our imagination. It does not mean we have to forget history, but rather learn from it, both mistakes and victories. We have to invigorate our imagination and not only demand the impossible but first of all do the impossible.

The changes we want to get through have to be built on ideas about international resistance and solidarity. We are not alone on this island; we are only a tiny part of a global struggle of those who have no power against those who have all the power, struggle for a world without authority. Everywhere in the world – in Mexico, Greece, Palestine, Iraq, Japan, Belarus, the USA – everywhere does this struggle continue. Of course it is on different levels and the same can be said about authorities’ reactions against it and repression.

What unites all of us is the fact that we are powerless and we stand against those who have the powers, in a struggle against them and against the system which allows few individuals to wield this power. We fight for people to take control of their own lives and the organization of the society, and destroy all power structures that oppress and kill.

And though the situation often looks bad and way too many people are blinded by the authorities’ propaganda about the necessity of the power to remain in their own hands, the fact is that our united struggle against them is real and the solidarity as well.

Last Saturday, fliers were distributed during the weekly demonstration by the parliament, encouraging people to show more concern for each other, during radical actions as well as in daily life. It also said that people should not even dare to think that it is more necessary to break down the government than to destroy patriarchy and fight against all injustice towards those who have another skin color and those who do not identify themselves as heterosexual.

Society is full of class divisions and injustice, based on ideas stating that some people are superior to others. Machismo, white color of skin and heterosexuality are the highest values of this society and all individuals that do not fall under these categories are automatically deemed inferior and are made targets of prejudices, intolerance and violence. These ideas have been incorporated into society as the inherent nature of the entire system and will not be defeated by mere reformism. Hence we need to destroy the roots of this system.

Let’s not celebrate when a woman (and even more: a homosexual woman) will now become a prime minister for the first time in history here in Iceland. Let’s not celebrate when women get into high positions of power. Let’s not celebrate when a black man becomes the president of the USA for the first time. Let’s not celebrate these reforms that help the system to renew its hold on power. Let’s not celebrate when women, homo- or bisexual and non-white individuals manage to work themselves up to the role of the average white straight man. No!

Let’s instead fight against this system, a system which segments society into hierarchical structures and oppresses those who are situated in the lower positions. Let’s fight against a system that allows few individuals to oppress others. Let’s fight against all power pyramids and abuse of power. Let’s fight against unequal distribution of wealth and natural resources. Let’s fight against all ideologies that have turned life necessities into luxury products for the privileged.

When we have revolted against all these oppressive structures we can finally talk about real justice and equality and can start talking about real changes. Then finally the word ‘revolution’ will sound true in our mouths.
— — —
More detailed information about the last weeks actions will be put up on in a few days. Until then you can read more about the protests and direct actions in Iceland since the economic collapse:
Direct Action in Iceland
Actions Continue in Iceland
Protesters cut live transmission of annual party political TV show

The following appeal is from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.
Grocery workers in Spokane, Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho deserve wages that pay the bills. Yet, workers at Albertsons, Fred Meyer, and Safeway have had less than one half of one percent in wage increases over the last five years.

Regional grocery company Rosauers agreed to a contract that met the needs of their grocery workers. They understand that in difficult economic times like these, good jobs are more important than ever in sustaining our middle class and keeping our communities strong.
Rosauers CEO says that, “we say that we’re a family, and we got to prove we are what we say we are.”

We all know times are hard, but we can't let big business use the recession as an excuse to dip into their workers' pockets.

If Rosauers could offer their workers fair contracts, why can't three of the wealthiest grocery corporations in the country?

Contact corporate personnel by phone and by email, and ask them to agree to fair contracts for their Washington and Idaho grocery employees. It's the right thing to do for workers and families.

Albertsons: Mike Clawson 1-208-395-6200
Fred Meyer: Mike Ellis 1-888-247-4439
Safeway: Greg Sparks 1-425-455-6444

Tell me more
Please go to THIS LINK to send the following letter to grocery store management in the American northwest.
Dear [ Decision Maker ],
I support Albertson's, Fred Meyer, and Safeway grocery workers in Spokane, Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho as they negotiate for a fair contract. I ask that you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve, and offer them a contract that shows your commitment to people instead of just profit.
Your workers are essential to your company's long-term success. So why not treat those employees with the respect they deserve? In these difficult economic times, it's more important than ever that workers have affordable quality health care and wages that pay the bills--not only for themselves, but for the benefit of their families and communities.

Please demonstrate that you understand and appreciate the value of your grocery workers and their communities in Washington and Idaho by agreeing to a fair contract. It's the right thing to do.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Recent events in France may have been of the utmost importance. As the economic crisis deepens people across Europe are beginning to fight back. Yesterday a massive general strike, supported by all the union organizations of the country, put the French government on notice that the working class of France would only stand for so much, and that the "solution" to the crisis must not be restricted to bailouts for the rich. It seems that Sarkozy's nightmare of social unrest across the European continent, similar to but more profound than the recent revolt in Greece, is coming true. Here are a selection of reports on yesterday's general strike in France. First, a report from the British LibCom site.
General strike hits France
As the recession begins to bite in France, transport, education and other services are brought to a halt by a national strike demanding action on unemployment and the rising cost of living.

Bloomberg business news reported that France’s rail network, airports and public schools were disrupted today as the country’s eight biggest labor unions called for a one-day general strike.

In what is turning into the largest such action since President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May 2007, the unions are demanding that the government do more to counter rising unemployment and falling purchasing power as France enters its first recession in 16 years. The eight unions represent the bulk of France’s 1.9 million-strong unionized workforce. Unions only represent a small proportion of the workforce in France, but strikes are always observed by many more workers.

“The government needs to change its methods,” Jean- Claude Mailly, general secretary of the Force Ouvriere union, said today in an interview on Canal Plus television. “There are real worries about purchasing power. All unions are united on the need to take action.” Roads around Paris were packed with cars in the early hours of the morning as commuters sought to get an early start to avoid traffic jams. Fewer train lines were in service and as many as 30 percent of flights in and out of the French capital were cancelled. Unions plan 200 demonstrations and protest marches in cities across the country later today.

Employees of companies including Electricite de France SA and French units of International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are among those participating in the strike. Public schools are expecting as many as 70 percent of their employees to strike, with unions for teachers, doctors and other civil servants asking for “urgent measures for employment and wages” and a further boost to the economy.

Popular Backing
Unions say measures announced by the government so far are inadequate. Sarkozy unveiled a 26 billion-euro ($34.4 billion) economic-stimulus package in December. About 69 percent of the French people back the strike, according to a poll by CSA-Opinion for newspaper Le Parisien on Jan. 25. Forty-six percent support the strike, while 23 percent “sympathize,” with the union call, Le Parisien said. Of those interviewed, 12 percent were opposed or hostile to the strike. It’s the first time in Sarkozy’s presidency that a “social movement” has had such public approval, Stephane Rozes, head of CSA-Opinion told the daily.

The French economy, the euro area’s second largest, may contract 1.8 percent this year, the worst performance since World War II, the European Union projected on Jan. 19. Companies are cutting jobs as the credit crunch derails purchases of homes, cars and factory machinery. The EU sees France’s unemployment rate at 9.8 percent this year and 10.6 percent next year. The number of jobseekers in France has risen for seven months, recording the biggest jump on record in November.
Train Traffic
Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, or SNCF, France’s national railway, where workers began the strike last night at 8 p.m., said about 60 percent of the regional TER train services and 40 percent of high-speed TGV lines will be disrupted. Eurostar and Thalys services to London and Brussels are running normally, SNCF said. All overnight domestic and international trains have been canceled except for a Berlin- Paris train arriving in the French capital on Jan. 30. Up to 50 percent of domestic high-speed services from and to Paris and 70 percent of the Corail domestic trains were canceled, the railroad said.

RATP, the Paris transport authority, said the city’s subway service was normal on about half its 14 lines. On the remaining lines, service ranged from 50 percent to 75 percent. One out of five RER A regional trains was running, with no service on RER B. Three out four buses were running.
Calls for Concessions
DGAC, the French aviation authority, recommended that airlines flying into and out of the Paris-Orly airport pare flights by 30 percent, while those going through Paris-Charles de Gaulle by 10 percent. Air France-KLM Group said last night that it plans to maintain all long-haul flights, while canceling 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of its short- and medium-haul flights from Orly and Charles de Gaulle. Power and gas supplies may be hit after EDF and GDF Suez SA employees said they are participating in the work stoppage. Previous strikes have led to lower electricity output at power producer EDF. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon earlier this week dismissed calls for concessions to appease the strikers. “It’s not the government’s role to make gestures,” Fillon said on France 2 television. “It’s the government’s role to keep reforms on track.”
Here's another report from the British press, this time the Press & Journal, about the extent of the strike.
France hit by general strike as unions act on economy
Demand for more government action – Sarkozy responds with meetings pledge
Published: 30/01/2009

France’s largest general strike in three years hit transportation, school, hospital and post services yesterday as unions demanded more government action to fight the economic crisis.

Over 1 million protesters took part, with tens of thousands of youths, pensioners and unemployed people marching across towns and cities.

The powerful CGT, one of eight unions that called the one-day “black Thursday” strike, claimed 2.5million people took part.

Both estimates would make it the largest collective protest in France since 2006 when students, angered by a jobs reform plan, weakened a previous government.

President Nicolas Sarkozy responded by announcing plans to meet union bosses in February.
Economic growth in 2009 is expected to be close to zero in France, with unemployment, now at 7.7%, below the double-digit figures of 10 years ago but rising at the fastest rate in 15 years.

Consumer spending has plunged. Mr Sarkozy has announced a £25 billion stimulus plan but the unions believe it is not enough.

The strikers were demanding better job security, higher salaries and purchasing power, and more say about Mr Sarkozy’s economic reforms.

Outside Paris, protests drew 34,000 in Bordeaux in the west, 24,000 in Marseilles in the south, 26,000 in the northern city of Lille, and 20,000 in eastern Nancy.

The demonstrations hit public services but failed to close them down, in part because of a 2007 law ensuring minimum service during strikes. Just over 10% of flights at Charles de Gaulle airport were cancelled, and a third at the smaller Orly airport. Many flights took off late.

The train authority said nearly 37% of workers joined the strike.

About 75% of buses and trains were running in Paris, but suburban trains linking the French capital were hit hard, with some lines running at a trickle.

Half of all primary school teachers stayed off the job, the education ministry said, and overall about 37% of teachers skipped class.

About 21% of public hospital workers went on strike, authorities said, and one-quarter of all postal workers stayed off the job.

Despite the economic crisis and the general strike, Sarkozy – who was elected in May 2007 – appears to remain committed to reforms.(Love that word "reform"-Molly)

Marie-Georges Buffet, head of the Communist Party, said she hoped yesterday’s protest would lead to others in the future. “Today is the first large day of unified mobilisation,” she said. “I hope tomorrow that there will be others.”
De plus voici le reportage de le syndicat anarchosyndicalist français la CNT-F sur les événtments.
Manifestations du jeudi 29 janvier : deux millions cinq cent mille grévistes dans les rues !:

Pas besoin de jouer sur les chiffres, la mobilisation interprofessionnelle de ce
jeudi 29 janvier a atteint une ampleur remarquable, par la grève, et dans la
rue. Lille : « Quand le cortège arrive place de la République, plus de deux
heures après son départ, la queue du peloton démarre à peine... » Mêmes
scénarios dans de nombreuses villes, seuls les noms des places changent ! Au
Havre, 25 000 manifestants, Montpellier (35 000), Lyon (50 000), Toulouse (90
000), Paris (300 000)... Dans l’éducation, près de 70% des enseignants du
primaire étaient en grève, 50% dans le secondaire... En Seine St Denis, les taux
de grévistes dans le primaire ont atteint des records : 80% à Montreuil, plus de
90% aux Lilas, à Bagnolet, à La Courneuve... Les cortèges CNT étaient au
rendez-vous. Lyon a donné le ton : « Nous ne paierons pas leur crise, grève
générale ». A Paris, le cortège CNT s’est glissé dans celui de la CGT, au beau
milieu des parents d’élèves de la FCPE, des travailleurs sociaux et des instits
Des Assemblées générales se sont réunies avant et après les manifestations. La CNT-FTE se félicite de ces dynamiques, à la base, et appelle à soutenir les initiatives de reconduction de la grève pour la généraliser. Elle relaiera et soutiendra les initiatives d’AG qui iront dans ce sens. Dans les Universités, les enseignants-chercheurs seront en grève dès lundi 2 février. A Paris, à l’occasion de la réunion d’un Comité technique paritaire, mardi 3 février, des enseignants seront aussi en grève. Un rassemblement est fixé l’après-midi devant le rectorat... La suite est à construire. L’ « assemblée générale nationale des collectifs de parents et enseignants en lutte », qui s’est réunie le 24 Janvier, à Villeurbanne (69), s’est fixée un nouveau rendez-vous, le 7 février, à Paris.

Ce n’est pas à Matignon ou à l’Elysée quil faut aller négocier début février, nous gagnerons en construisant un véritable rapport de force qui impose les revendications des travailleurs-ses et en élargissant les luttes à tous les secteurs, pour refuser les attaques gouvernementales et réactionnaires, pour défendre les acquis historiques des travailleurs et pour en conquérir de nouveaux fondés sur l’égalité, la socialisation, l’autogestion par la base, le partage (des richesses et du temps de travail), les services publics...
Dans l’éducation, nous sommes en grève pour :
***le retrait des réformes Darcos (suppressions de postes, suppression des
RASED, mise en place des EPEP, suppression du BEP, fichages, contre-réforme du
Lycée, LRU, masterisation des concours...)
*** la fin des licenciements et du recours à l’emploi précaire, par la
titularisation sans condition de concours ni de nationalité, des contractuels,
vacataires, AED, AP, CAE, CAV, EVS, AVS...
***un véritable service public d’éducation, sans un centime pour le privé
***l’augmentation du budget de l’école publique, des salaires et
l’amélioration des conditions de travail
***la liberté syndicale et le maintien des droits syndicaux des
travailleurs-ses, à la base.

Contre la loi du profit et des patrons, le temps approche d’une révolution sociale, éducative et pédagogique. Grève générale interprofessionnelle.
Here is the English translation of the above.
Demonstrations on Thursday 29 January, two million five hundred thousand strikers in the streets!:
There is no need to play with the figures, the general mobilization this Thursday January 29 has reached a remarkable extent, by the strike, and on the streets.
"When the procession reaches the square of the Republic, more than two hours after his departure, the tail of the bunch just starting to leave."
Same scenario in many cities, only the names of places change!
In Le Havre, 25 000 protesters, Montpellier (35 000), Lyon (50 000), Toulouse (90 000), Paris (300 000)
... In education, almost 70% of primary school teachers were on strike, 50% in the secondary schools
... En Seine St Denis, the strike rate in primary education has reached a record 80%.
...In Montreuil, over 90%.
...In the Lilas, in Bagnolet, La Courneuve ... CNT demonstrations were held there.
...Lyons set the tone:
"We will not pay for their crisis, general strike
... In Paris, the CNT contingent slipped into that of the CGT, in the middle of the parents of the students of the CIPF, social workers and Instits Paris ...

General Assemblies met before and after the demonstrations. The CNT-FTE welcomes these dynamics of the base, and calls for support for initiatives for renewal of the strike and its generalization. It will relay and support initiatives of the AG along these lines. In universities, academics will be on strike from Monday 2 February. In Paris, on the occasion of a meeting of the Joint Technical Committee, Tuesday 3 February, teachers will also be on strike. A rally is set for the afternoon in the rectory ... The result is to be built. The "General National Collective of parents and teachers in struggle", which will meet on 24 January, in Villeurbanne (69), has set a new meeting on 7 February in Paris.

It is not necessary to negotiate with Matignon or the Elysée in early February, We will win by building a genuine alternative power requires that will impose workers' demands and expand its struggles in all sectors, to deny the attacks of the reactionary government and to defend the historic achievements of workers and to win new ones based on equality, socialization, self-management, sharing (of wealth and of working time), and public servives ...
In education, we are on strike for:
***the withdrawal of the Darcos reforms (abolition of, suppression of RASED, setting up EPEP, deletion of BEP, registration, against the school reform, LRU, comprehensive exams ...)
***the end of the dismissals and the use of precarious employment: the establishment without qualifying competition or nationality, contractors, temporary contractors such as AED, AP, CAE, CAV, EVS, AVS ...
***a true public service education, without a cent for the private sector
***A budget increase for public school, increased wages and improved working conditions ***freedom of association and the maintenance of trade union rights of ordinary workers . Against the law of profit and bosses. The times approach a social revolution in education and teaching. General Strike.
Finally, from the pages of The Independent, a British newspaper, how this all ties together in an Europe wide perspective.
The Big Question: How serious is the political unrest on the Continent, and can it be calmed?:
By Peter PophamFriday, 30 January 2009

Why are we asking this now?
As the economic consequences of the credit crunch rumble across Europe, producing soaring unemployment rates and falling wages, protesters are taking to the streets in more and more countries to voice their anger.
Like where?
Yesterday saw the first mass demonstrations against the government response – or lack of it – to the economic crisis in France, where, in the biggest protests for many years, more than a million demonstrators turned out across the country, demanding that President Sarkozy do more to stanch the economic bloodletting. Public transport was drastically reduced, and one third of teachers stayed away from their schools. Factory, postal, hospital and many other workers struck. Even some staff at the Paris stock exchange joined the protests.
Why did the strike call produce such a response?
Unemployment in France is soaring at the fastest rate for 15 years, consumer spending has plummeted, and the eight unions which combined forces to stage the protest say the €26bn stimulus package that President Sarkozy announced recently is a woefully inadequate response to the crisis. Nearly 70 per cent of the French population was said be in favour of the protests.
Where did all this start?
The shooting dead of a teenager by a policeman in Athens in December unleashed weeks of violently destructive demonstrations, not only in the Greek capital but across the country. Although sparked by the killing, it became clear that what underlay the protests and made them so large and widespread was the country's galloping economic malaise.
Why was Greece affected first?
As the weakest member of the Eurozone economically, Greece is suffering disproportionately from the credit cruch and has none of the cushions of its wealthier fellow-members in northern Europe. Lacking competitive industry and agriculture, it has been heavily dependent on services, shipping and tourism – all of which have been sliding as consumers worldwide cut back on their spending. Last week Standard & Poor delivered another blow when it downgraded Greece's credit rating, arguing that the crisis had aggravated the Greek economy's "underlying loss of competitiveness."
How do these factors translate into problems for ordinary Greeks?
The protests were overwhelmingly by the young, and it is the young who have been most drastically affected, with youth unemployment rates of up to 30 per cent and many graduates forced to take menial jobs. But this week another disgruntled sector hoved into view as Greece's farmers blockaded the capital with more than 9,000 tractors to demand that the government hike its emergency support package to them of €500m.
Where else have protests broken out?
France aside, the countries affected have been small, historically weak ones which grew rapidly richer during the recent boom but are now being hit from every direction at once, with rising unemployment and wage and budget cuts, combined in the case of Latvia with tax increases mandated by the IMF. It's countries like Latvia and Lithuania that are the walking wounded of the credit crunch. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, recently singled out Latvia, Hungary, Belarus and Ukraine as among the most vulnerable to turmoil.
What's the Latvian story?
During the boom its growth rates were in double figures, putting it among the champions of the EU, but last year the economy shrunk by 2 per cent and is forecast to sink by another 5 per cent in 2009, while unemployment has doubled in the past six months to 8 per cent, with three times that rate for young people.
So Latvians are angry?
Very. This is a country with little history of violent protest, but earlier this month a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Riga, by more than 10,000 people degenerated into a drunken riot in which 25 people were injured and 106 arrested. Public anger about the economy had been exacerbated in December when a leading member of the government, quizzed about the reasons for the economic crisis, told the TV interviewer, "Nothing special." The phrase infuriated many Latvians, and became an ironic slogan of the demonstrators.
What action were the protestors demanding?
Go home, and let other people take over. Government spokesmen argued in vain that the problem had its roots in reckless economic decisions made by the previous administration.
So the protests were pretty incoherent?
That's a feature of all the protests so far, and it reflects the confusion of governments at which the demonstrators are protesting. The authorities are flinging everything they can think of at the crisis, reversing years of economic wisdom and pulling every lever in sight in the hope that something might work. So far nothing has , despite the vaporisation of tens of billions of euros in the process. As panic grips Cabinet rooms across the Continent, the public is driven to fury.
But no government has fallen?
Wrong: Iceland's coalition government succumbed last week, after protests by 8,000 people were quelled by tear gas. A caretaker government is filling the breach, and elections will be held in a couple of months.
Where is all this going?
Nowhere good, is the broad consensus. Those who have long been sceptical about the validity of European Monetary Union are chortling with schadenfreude as the Eurozone's weaker members, sometimes offensively known as the Pigs – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – struggle to make ends meet inside the (relatively) strengthening currency, with weakening competitiveness and ballooning deficits exposing what the sceptics see as the innate contradictions of yoking economies as different as Germany's and Greece's in a single currency.
What are they saying could happen?
Some predict that one or more of the "Pigs" could eventually be booted out of the Eurozone altogether. Even those who scorn such a scenario – pointing out that in the midst of its worst ever economic and political turmoil Iceland is actually applying to join the Euro – fear stronger economies could exact a fearsome price for continuing to entertain the weaker ones.
What sort of price?
Basically, imposing the obligation to cut their swollen deficits. For instance Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, has proposed that the Eurozone as a whole might take on the debts of the weaker members. In return the governments of those countries would have to submit to having their budgets drawn up in Brussels. Deep budget cuts in the depth of a severe recession in countries such as Italy, with a long history of violent street protest, could only be a recipe for further political unrest.
Will the disaffection and protest spread to more European countries?
* Despite throwing huge sums around, no government has a clue how to stop the
* Online technology enables political indignation to spread across the
continent like wildfire
* No longer able to devalue their way out of
trouble, the weaker Eurozone economies are sitting ducks
* The Eurozone will rise to the challenge and its weaker members will take their medicine calmly
* Despite spiralling problems, Germany and the UK have yet to see any serious mass protests
* The auguries of doom are inescapable, but this panic may pass sooner than we expect
Well, going from the last article it is very heartening to hear that, from a ruling class perspective, the whole social system may be rescued by an early return to normal economic conditions. Maybe yes and maybe no. Nobody can predict the duration of the present recession/depression. On our sister site Molly's Polls Molly has voted for a duration of three years. I have no special expertise in economics, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that professional economists also lack this talent.

What I can say is the following. People can wait with "hope" that the present economic crisis will pass in a timely fashion. OR they can move in the here and now to reduce the impact of the crisis on them and their communities. They can either or either not call their governmenst to account. Actually calling them to account will force the politicians to do something they don't want to do ie provide an economic cushion for ordinary people rather than their corporate friends.

Much more importantly, however, is the promulgation of the idea that there is more to this crisis than the idea of inceasing social suppiorts. There are libertarian alternatives that are "crisis proof" because they don't depend upon a bureaucratic financial system to sustain them. Molly has mentioned them before on this blog. The "cooperativation" of certain enterprise is an obvious response. The promotion of properly regulated credit unions is another. It is fine and good to try and resist the initiatives of government to pass the cost of the present crisis on to ordinary people. What Molly says, however, is that there is a different, more ambitious and, in the end, more realistic replace our present economic system by a cooperative one.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

This one is for those of you who live in southern Alberta and BC. The Joey Only Outlaw Band will be touring that neck of the woods in the next few days. Here's the schedule.

Joey Only Outlaw Band: 7 shows in south BC and ALBERTA:‏
-Outlaw Band to play Blizzardfest with Blackberry Wood
-our fiddler Jeff Andrew promotes his new album
-shows: Rossland, Ymir, Winlaw, Calgary, Nanton, Fernie!!
-Outlaws all weekend at Bar Named Sue
The schoolhouse
Jeff Andrew to open
Cedar Creek Cafe
Jeff Andrew to open
Jeff Andrew to open
NANTON ALBERTA: Auditorium Hotel
Jeff Andrew to open
FEBRUARY 6th & 7th: $10
Jeff Andrew to open
Jeff Andrew(fiddle), Mike Zinger(steel), Kenan Sungur(drums), Joey Only(guitars,vocals),Tobias Meiss (upright bass), Leah Martin(vocals-three shows).


Despite Steven Harper's "apology" in the House of Commons last year the record of Canada's genocidal residential schools remains a hot topic. This coming Wednesday, February 4, Elijah Harper (no relation) will be speaking on the topic at the University of Winnipeg. Here's the announcement.

*Indian Residential Schools, Healing and Reconciliation*
Elijah Harper
Aboriginal Governance Program
Education - Lecture
Time and Place
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
7:00pm - 9:00pm
Convocation Hall, Wesley Hall, University of Winnipeg
515 Portage
Winnipeg, MB

Renowned Aboriginal leader and activist Elijah Harper will be on campus February 4, 2009 to give a public address devoted to the topic of Indian residential schools, healing and reconciliation. The University of Winnipeg's Aboriginal Governance program is presenting the evening as part of its Speakers Series and the public is invited to attend. There is no admission fee.
In 1990, while sitting as an opposition member in the Manitoba Legislature, Harper blocked the Canadian constitutional amendment known as the Meech Lake Accord. He cited the lack of adequate participation and recognition of Aboriginal people in that process. Later that year,he won the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award - the same presented to Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He was then voted as the Newsmaker of the Year in Canada for 1990 by the Canadian Press.
*One of the great national issues in Canada is the place of Aboriginal peoples in our collective vision of our country, and the question of healing and reconciliation,* said Paul Chartrand, Director of the Aboriginal Governance Program at U Winnipeg. The views of Elijah Harper on the Residential Schools question are not only timely in light of current developments, but also significant for the insights evoked by his unique experience and the trademark charisma of his delivery and presentation.*
Elijah Harper speaks:
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
7:00 pm
Convocation Hall
2nd floor, Wesley Hall, 515 Portage Avenue
Harper is the former Chief of Red Sucker Lake First Nation (1978 -1981) and Manitoba MLA, Rupertsland Riding (1981 - 1992). As Minister of Northern Affairs he set up the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry which included the J.J. Harper and Helen Betty Osborne cases.
Harper is an activist, promoting human and Aboriginal rights, a registered lobbyist/consultant/advisor to Aboriginal organizations, a public speaker, and is involved in charitable work with World Vision in Tanzania, Kenya and the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Access detailed information about UWinnipeg*s Aboriginal Governance Program at

Faced with back to work legislation due to be introduced in the federal parliament the City of Ottawa and Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union have agreed to a deal, yet to be ratified by the union membership, to enter into negotiations via an arbitrator. This ends a 51 day long strike and to return to work. Only last week the City rejected a similar offer on the part of the union to take the dispute to arbitration. The events of today may, therefore, be seen as at least something of a victory for the union. Yet, it is far from an unqualified success. Please note one salient fact in the following story from CTV Toronto. Both the federal Liberals and the federal NDP was in agreement with the back to work legislation proposed by Conservative Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose. This says something, at least about the NDP.
City, union reach deal to end Ottawa transit strike:
Avoiding federal back-to-work legislation, the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union have reached a tentative deal to let an arbitrator end the public transit strike that has paralyzed the nation's capital for 51 days.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien told CTV Ottawa that all issues - including the contentious scheduling question - will be sent to arbitration.

"Both parties realized that the moment the federal government agreed to take this to legislation, it was over," O'Brien said.

"We agreed very quickly that we could go around all of that, and simply go back to the process of getting those buses on the streets for our citizens."

O'Brien said the arbitrator would find a balanced approach between the two sides, who have clashed on dozens of issues ranging from scheduling control to wages.

"I know citizens have been through a lot, but I think this is the best way to get a fair and reasonable offer," he said.

"It was absolutely the only way we were going to reach a deal, and I'm very comfortable we're moving ahead this way."

Although an agreement has been announced, it will still take at least one week to get the first round of buses serviced and back on the roads.

O'Brien said the city will make announcements over the next three days on how and when OC Transport will gradually return to the streets.

City council will hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss the developments.
Agreement forgoes emergency House of Commons debate
The deal comes one day after federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose threatened to introduce back-to-work legislation to end the strike, which would have also resulted in binding arbitration. An emergency debate in the House of Commons scheduled for Thursday night was cancelled after the deal was announced late in the afternoon.

Transport Minister John Baird, the MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, said it became clear on Tuesday that the city and union were "not going to put politics aside and come together" once talks collapsed.

The federal government had the back-to-work legislation prepared to enact immediately, Baird added. Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, planned to keep the upper chamber in session late Thursday night in case the legislation passed through the House of Commons.

More than 2,300 bus drivers, dispatchers and mechanics walked off the job on Dec. 10. They had been working without a contract since April.

Ottawa South MP David McGuinty said the arbitration agreement reflected the fact that right to collective bargaining had to be balanced against the public good: missed medical appointments, lost jobs, and stranded students.

"Both sides (had) lost perspective," said McGuinty, a Liberal whose party, along with the NDP, supported the back-to-work legislation.

"The city and the union became very ideologically entrenched. I think they began to understand they lost perspective and that people were suffering."

Craig Watson, an OC Transport driver and a scheduling representative with ATU Local 279, told CTV Newsnet that the public had every right to be frustrated.

"Both parties need to collectively shake their head," Watson said, but added he thought the city "did a lot more wrong than we did wrong."