State power in the time of Corona: To protect and serve … whom?

At the time of writing, nearly half the world has closed down or is waking up to an unfamiliar world of  encroachments on physical mobility in ways not seen since the War of  1914 to 1918. Covid-19 has exposed existing fault lines in public health care provision and in  public health crisis in both the global South and the global North. The realities of socioeconomic exclusion have exposed ongoing inertia in public service provision and the rescinding role of the State in those provisions. Race, gender and class have been foregrounded in this time of crisis.  Whilst the Corona virus offers a critical moment to rethink and reframe the social compact between state, citizens and residents, it is also a dangerous and alarming time of enforced mass  enclosure. This is not the first time that humanity has been here though the scale and reach are unprecedented

Following Hurricane Katrina, many people sought to answer the question of whether its social effects and the government response to the country’s biggest natural disaster had more to do with race or with class. Media images broadcast from Louisiana showed nearly all those left behind to suffer and die were Black Americans—it looked a race, gender and class issue because it was. A few years later during Hurricane Sandy, it was clear that the US had learnt nothing from the traumatic upheaval wrought by Katrina. In this instance, it appears that nearly all might be left behind, but that the social  binaries of race based poverty and gender would endure, starkly. 

Though often hampered by  resource constraints, most African countries have a better track record of deploying state support and resources to deal with the upheavals of disease and the aftermath of war. The Ebola virus, the ongoing HIV/AIDs pandemic and malaria have provided lessons in the folly of denial, the importance of protecting health workers, of accessible and low-cost medication, robust public education, and open and consistent communication. So much of what seems like basic sense has been found wanting in the handling of Covid -19.  The news that British Prime Minister   Boris Johnson has tested positive after robust handshaking  whilst we have been advised to keep a distance and wash our hands shows a reckless leadership deficit during a defining moment.

The last forty years of globalisation as market orthodoxy has commodified health care. The globalisation of trade is  central  to  health services that have become a tradeable commodity  in an era in which many States have disinvested from health services altogether. Like education, access to water and electricity,  health provision  has been a casualty of structurally  adjusted States and the curve between the global South and the North has been exposed during this crisis as the UK and the US, often considered to be ‘developed’, have again been found weak and unprepared for a health trauma of this scale. The prescripts and onerous impacts of conditional aid and state disinvestment in social provision  have long been felt by African and Latin American countries. 

Globally, states are all experiencing the impacts and limits to free market logic. Though  characterised by many as the great equaliser, a time when States are equally fragile across the global north and global south, the true genesis of this global devastation is northern capitalism and demobilised  States. Structural adjustment as a project has evolved and is a continuing mantra of the  International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both  recently unveiled their market driven response of emergency loans targeting developing countries  primarily in the Global South. The depleted  health and sanitation systems in many  countries  is testimony to the devastating success of neoliberal globalisation in immobilising national  state capacities.  

Following structural adjustment programmes, most health care and essential services – including water, energy, education – may be removed from state purview for cost recovery  arrangements. In this scenario private companies invest their funds in return for state guaranteed monopolies and price control, further dispossessing and excluding vulnerable communities. Public Private Partnerships – which are essentially polite privatisation – have existed for centuries,  thriving even more when States are weakened. These have also  become the easy allies of disaster capitalism as seen in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy where education and energy supplies were privatised, monetised and removed from the domain of public good.  

Despite decades of state neglect, social apartheid and various global traumas, consensu has formed on closing down public movement and curbing personal freedoms to address the War called Corona. The introduction of “lockdowns” with no tangible provision for social safety nets has posed significant risks to workers in the parallel economy, internally displaced persons, the working poor, fragile urban communities and other marginalised sectors. 

Notwithstanding  outsourcing their most fundamental functions to the private sector and ignoring their duty to distribute social and economic benefits to the most vulnerable in society, States are now  calling on us to trust them as they invoke martial law. This has  resulted in the largest shutdown of the last century. Unlike the two European wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) the impact of this situation is not localised to a few European nations, the Soviet Union, Australia,  Japan and the United States. Globalisation has transmitted both the disease and uniform approaches to problem solving. 

Students of civil liberties, human rights and social cohesion have opined on the politics of enclosure in times of war and peace.  Even during enclosed times, States exhibit inherent biases and weaknesses that maintain privilege for corporate and masculinised interests.  South Africa has lived through public control  in living memory, and distrust of the State and state security is still embedded in social discourses. Like many other  countries, the spectre of securitisation of human mobility sits badly, particularly as we still recall the dehumanising policing of colonial Apartheid exemplified by the Sharpeville Massacre, Soweto Uprising and Uitenhage massacres among many.  Troublingly, the Marikana Massacre  and the violence against the #FeesMustFall activists illustrates that the State can be a brutal  personality regardless of the supposedly progressive underpinnings of the Government in power.

At the time of writing, South Africans are required to carry Identity Books in case we are stopped by the police or army when going to buy  groceries or medical supplies. Once more, personhood is linked to a form of the much reviled Apartheid Passbook.  It is deeply unsettling, albeit necessary, that states are containing us to  control a warlike virus that might have been prevented had the same States not neglected  and commodified health care  so shamelessly. The same could be said of nearly every country battling the Corona pandemic.  

Whilst allowing already problematic Father States to lead us through very complex terrain, we recall that States are often inclined towards repression. Public order policing and martial law have often been the retreat of authoritarian regimes, evoking public safety, order and emergencies real or created to control citizens and residents . Late last year the Chilean government clamped down on high school protestors who demanded that the State provide  cost effective public transport. The escalating rage resulted in something resembling a nationwide, cross-issue movement against price increases, poor social services, and unemployment. It remains to be seen whether  the promise of a constitutional reform will quell public dissent. France has faced similar protests on public pension funds  and the retreat of the State in maternity clinics and postal services . Macron  effectively  ‘closed down’ France nearly two weeks ago. In the midst of their lockdown, thousands marched against him the day before local government elections. While States might have found the opportunity to indulge their regressive impulses during the time of Corona, not all of us are amnesiac about how we got here.  

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / EPA – EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Covid Operations: How is this (not) unprecedented? Let us count the ways …

“They knew that their country’s devastation—before the earthquake as now—was not inevitable. They knew that traditional “recovery” would fail to recover much of anything except the previous inequities. They knew that reconstruction could be, had to be, grounded in democracy, where all had a say. And they were organizing.”
                                             Beverly Bell. Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide

The emergence and efflorescence of Covid-19 has produced its own distinct discourse: social distancing, flatten the curve, social isolation, care mongering, and the list goes on. Words matter, rhetoric matters. One term that has been recirculated through the interpretive landscape of dismay, disorder and governmental dithering is to claim that everything is unprecedented … and so how could we have known? This claim of unprecedence has resulted in some curious contortions. For example, the stock market collapse is both unprecedented and the worst since 1987. The pandemic itself is unprecedented and the worst since the 1918 pandemic, the so-called Spanish flu. Well, which is it, unprecedented or the worst since? It doesn’t matter, because the claim of everything being unprecedented, rather than seriously and existentially dire, is always already an alibi. What is the alibi, and were we all really completely unaware?

For decades, political economist after political economist has warned that neoliberal models of development, and in particular austerity, would leave the world with severely diminished health care systems and seriously stretched economies. Four decades of slow to no growth and just in time production chains have produced “lean economies” which [a] only work for the very rich, [b] widen inequality rapidly and increasingly, and [c] increase risk. How did `we’ emerge from the infamous 1987 crash? The infamous Greenspan Put, in which the Fed “injected liquidity” into the market. What that means is that speculators are protected from risk and so are encouraged to take even riskier investments. The very opposite of no pain, no gain, this solution is All gain for a few, all and intense pain for everyone else. That was how `we’ emerged from 1987 … 1997 … 2000 … 2008. Unprecedented? Hardly.

Four years ago, Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu was published. Recently, Wallace noted, “The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure –or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary. When the new outbreaks spring up, governments, the media, and even most of the medical establishment are so focused on each separate emergency that they dismiss the structural causes that are driving multiple marginalized pathogens into sudden global celebrity, one after the other … There are no capital-free pathogens at this point … The capital-led agriculture that replaces more natural ecologies offers the exact means by which pathogens can evolve the most virulent and infectious phenotypes. You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases … These companies can just externalize the costs of their epidemiologically dangerous operations on everyone else.” The other term for the Greenspan Put is moral hazard, “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.” That’s Paul Krugman writing, in 2009, about the crash of 2008. Unprecedented? No.

Despite the experience, and warning signs, of both SARS and Ebola, the lessons for health care were ignored in favor of profit. Cut workers’ access to health benefits, both by directly slicing health care benefits and transferring large sectors of the labor force to precarious `self contractors’. Defund public health and privatize health care as extensively and deeply as possible. Invest in pharmaceutical research that generates maximum profits and whatever you do, stay away from research in preventive medicine. Big Pharma “loves to design cures. The sicker we are the more they earn.” Keep the system `lean’ and `efficient’, meaning no extra beds, no extra anything. This is the legacy of austerity, and it has been widely criticized, certainly 40 years ago at the beginning of the period of neoliberal development, but with greater insistence, research and documentation over the past ten years. Unprecedented? Nope.

The claim of “unprecedented” is an alibi to the same extent that it provides ideological cover for the same old same old. This is not about gotcha; this is about how we understand “reconstruction”. Many are, rightly, concerned that nation-State governments will declare a State of Emergency or a State of Disaster and thereby erode civil and human rights. Even if that does not happen, we must pay critical attention to those who call for a “return to normalcy”, which would mean a `return’ to growing inequality, decreasing access to decent health care, mounting evictions, increased incarceration, increasing hunger, and more and more unprecedented pandemics.

(Image credit: NPR)

When the neoliberal and globalization creed meets the virus

Did we see it coming? In the United States there was a presidential campaign taking place along with social unrest, immigration unrest and wall building. In Europe, countries were passing laws either to exclude people in exile, or people in vulnerable position, with no alternative! Then the novel coronavirus came to life creating Covid 19. We call it now a corona virus crisis. A new crisis in the series of crises that capitalism has been feeding itself from. At the beginning it was a Chinese made virus. But China is the iconic representation of globalization and all a sudden everything was in shambles. 

One should make the connection between globalization and the development of neoliberal economic dogma. However, this dogma initiated after WWII as the colonies were engaged in a struggle for independence from the imperial war mongering West, did not always exist. The response to the independence of former colonies was the creation of this new dogma of globalization, based also on the Western yearning for universalism. Toni Morrison reminds us that globalism “understands itself as historically progressive, enhancing, destined, unifying, utopian”. That is how it forms its delusional promise to allow itself to create a dehumanized system of deregulation, globalization and total competition. 

In the mid 1980s, Structural Adjustment Programs, SAPs, were imposed on poor countries, sometimes former colonies of the rich countries, often rich in natural resources needed in the rich countries. These SAPs were designed according to the logic of the Washington Consensus (growth at all cost and at the expense of public social services) to justify globalization. The IMF and the World Bank provided loans to poor countries under the aegis of development, but these loans came with conditionalities that required repaying these high interest loans in priority rather than developing social and health services. This complete overhaul of social structures with the development of competition for markets undermined women’s economy and women’s position.  

The Ebola virus outbreak in the 2010s shed light on the cruelty of these programs. By the same token, the austerity measures following the same neoliberal economic orthodoxy similarly stoked the elimination of public services in richer countries. The current pandemic, with the risk of infection as a common denominator, has reunited every social class and gender, with some variation according to age; therefore, it has become an international source of anxiety especially that the rich countries have become the epicenter of the epidemics. 

The national responses are different, as, for example, when the contamination of the virus is progressing rapidly in the US due social factors such as lack of a public-run health care system, lack of protection for workers under US labor laws, lack of social services, lack of access to medications. Only now is the US government considering paid sick leave for a number of people who are quarantined and whose jobs are on hold. The US hospital system has the fewest number of beds per 100 among the developed world.  The US pharmaceutical industry depends on its products and ingredients from companies in India and China. Tests for coronavirus are not widely available to identify people affected by this highly contagious disease. In the US only 11 000 tests were administered in the past few days whereas South Korea uses 20 000 tests every day.

If one wants to measure inequality concerning access to health care, one should look at the prison and immigration detention systems. “From a public health perspective, prisons [are] so dangerous because they’re overcrowded and their systems of care provision, such as they are, have intentionally gone from bad to worse”

This coronavirus pandemic reveals how a government’s callous disregard for human life and the environment relies on its “capacity to decide who may live and who must die.” Only this time the powerful are caught in their own game.

(Photo, image credit: Robert Metz and Matteo Paganelli)

In the Streets of Chile, the People are Singing: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz

Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet in the 1970s, economic austerity was placed on the people of Chile. Under the guise of reform, neoliberalist measures on the people of Chile were implemented, resulting in widespread economic hardship and massive wealth inequality. For thirty years, the working class and indigenous populations in Chile suffered under Pinochet’s market-driven economic model, which privatized pensions, health and education. Unions were decimated as was the public education system, and public services were shifted to private enterprises. Chile remains a country with the highest cost of living in South America and is considered one of the most unequal in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of nations. 

The recent uprising occurring in the country began as a protest against a hike in metro ticket prices and quickly escalated into a massive revolt against the significant income inequality in the country. The proposed transit fare rate would have risen to nearly 1.20 a ride, a 4% increase; a significant burden placed on low-income families who spend 13% of their budgets on transportation, and retirees who are forced to survive on a pension that is below the minimum wage. 

The response to the simmering anger over the rising cost for the poor and old? That they just get up earlier and leave for work before seven in the morning to avoid paying the rush hour rate. Now after a million people took part in a demonstration on October 25th, thousands of other protests from poor, young, students, indigenous populations, and union workers, the government has finally realized that squeezing more money and work and time out of the poor may not be the most competent economic model. 

Piñera has walked back on the neoliberal policies that have entrenched inequality in Chile, but they are not enough. As the last nail in the coffin of Pinochet’s cruelty, his constitution is echoes the continuing destruction of working people and the elderly in the country. While Piñera has moved to raise the minimum wage and pensions, demand pay cuts from government officials, and fired his entire cabinet, many see these gestures as token and symbolic at best – Pinochet’s constitution is still in play – and have demanded a truly democratic society, where the power is not vested only in the hands of the wealthiest and the out of touch. And the people are not backing down, even after the president’s paltry promises.

Meanwhile, how are American citizens reacting to our overwhelming inequality; where are the uprisings that should have been in place after the NYC’s fare enforcement? Where is the anger when poor men and women are tackled and tased for not paying $2.00 while the city employees four cops at almost $80,000 a year to brutalize them? Will we ever be as revolutionary, or will it happen too late?

(Photo Credit: CanalC)

Stop championing New Jersey as progressive: State and local politics are still a catastrophe

The state of New Jersey sure is getting a lot of hype to it; I haven’t been able to look at news articles about the state without some praise from progressive media about the great things New Jersey is accomplishing, now that Christie got the boot and Murphy got the in. There’s the minimum wage hike (which won’t go into effect until 2024); bills are being pushed to legalize marijuana (which stalled because of the lack of votes, despite being voted on multiple times during the Christie era); condemnation of Kavanaugh and the sexual violence against women from men in power (despite the fact that the same thing has happened in the Murphy Administration). The country only sees the great things that the state is doing from the headlines; read between the lines and you will see the way local and state politics have been marred by a toxic combination of conservativism, neoliberalism, and progressive political theater. 

New Jersey is about progressive as Joe Biden. A heartening meme but with some creepy undertones that no one wants near them. New Jersey is about as progressive as Cory Booker, who at once talks about not accepting corporate PAC money but then has a fundraiser at $28,000 per donor that ensures each donor a picture with Booker and Murphy, and dinner, and is hosted by Bon Jovi. New Jersey is the high and mighty condemnation of offshore drilling on our oceans while it being ok for a pipeline to be built in the Meadowlands. If I have twenty dollars for every time a progressive news outlet lauded the great choices of the Garden State, I still wouldn’t be able to live there because the property taxes are too high and the Democrats in office would rather pull money from public employees before passing a Millionaire’s Taxon the super wealthy individuals in the state.

In my home county, a judge whose father was a senator is only threatened with suspension, despite asking a domestic violence survivor whether she kept her legs closed to prevent her partner from raping her and then denyied her restraining order because he thought she wasn’t telling the truth. Essex County still won’t end a contract with ICE, citing safety concerns for the people they detain, while still making seven million dollars a month from holding them for ICE. 

Cops keeping beating people, and we know cops are pigs (and really actively acknowledge that—“Lakehurst cops are shit; cops gotta fill a quota at the end of the month; no, no, no, Manchester cops are worse”), but the moment a black boy or girl is shot, all I hear is Blue Lives Matter from the same people that call those in Blue assholes.

I have never been more sick and tired of hearing about the great Phil Murphy, even though I was optimistic that the administration won (because at least it wasn’t Kim Guadagno and her Christie taint). But now somehow the progressive policies that were championed in that era are suddenly too…too extreme or revolutionary now that Democrats are crawling towards a super majority in the state legislature. 

We should have had a living wage almost immediately, because small businesses aren’t a thing anymore in the state and Barnabas Health and Wakefern (all the Shoprite supermarket chains in the state and their warehouses and commissaries) are the state’s largest employers. If we really care about the environment in the state of New Jersey, all pipelines should be banned from being built and subsidized solar panels should be available to all residents so we can finally faze out electric companies. We should have not just lip service about affordable housing and lament on the cost of living in the state, but also clear-cut housing first and affordable housing options. And raise taxes on the wealthy in the state! I am sick and tired of passing by Deal on Route 71 and seeing mansions and knowing that those aren’t even primary houses but just summer homes!

We should be legalizing marijuana, no if, ands or buts and then expunge those who have been arrested and charged with marijuana charges, demand reparations for them, and help them create a business for those people instead of watching large corporations bank on the legalization of marijuana. 

I’m running for Governor in the Great State of New Jersey, because anyone knows the suffering of the people is inherently tied to the economic redistribution of wealth between the two classes of residents (a gap which is widening), it’s a Jersey girl who’s had to deal with the threat of foreclosure, late phone bills and electricity being turned off; it’s Sandy and then the giant snowstorm afterward that almost knocked a tree into her family’s run down house. It’s a girl who’d rather make sure that the employees in retail can live in the state (because she herself wouldn’t have been able to live in the state) instead of those poor millionaires who might have to leave their first and second homes if we raise their taxes. And when progressive news outlets put me on a title of their great next piece, it will be because of actual progressive policies that don’t have the stink of neoliberalism about it. 

(Photo Credit 1: PBS / Reuters / Eduardo Munoz) (Photo Credit 2: LSE US Centre)

Paris chambermaids strike against the cleaning inequalities of the neoliberal state

In Paris the chambermaids of the Holiday inn of Clichy in the Northern district of Paris are striking in a struggle for dignity in the face of increasing dehumanization of service workers. They have decried their work conditions with the company Héméra that contract their work to the Holiday Inn. The workers went on strike after they realized that some of their colleagues had been redirected to another hotel far away, and that workloads had increased while wages stagnated. This is part of a general workers’ response to mounting inequality.

Recently, inequality has resurfaced as a major issue in “democratic” as well as in non-democratic nations. Last week, the Word Inequality Report brought to light a multilayer study of the global rise in inequality. Although Europe has seen a slower increase of inequality, compared to the rest of the world, the increase is still significant and even more troublesome since the European model supposedly relied on a system of protections against inequality.

Employment deregulation and privatization have been touted as a rational means to resist competition in Western Europe.  In the process of privatizing services, cleaners who were employed by hotels or public services are now generally employed by service companies that contract their work. This process lowers the conditions of employment. Service provider companies have multiplied, fragmenting the gained negotiating power of workers and unions. The majority of the people thus employed are women as are 70% of the poor in the world.

Within Europe, until recently France had retained some of the best labor protections, but in recent years the labor code has been reshaped under the pretext that it was too complicated. Most recently, President Macron struck the final blow, redefining labor protection.

At the Holiday Inn in Clichy, the chambermaids said, “NO!”. Blandine Laurenjolla, a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn in Clichy with 10 years seniority, was being forced to transfer to a hotel a few hours away from her home. She is a mother of four, the youngest is only 11 months old. When she complained that she would have to leave her home every day at 4 AM, she was told that with young children she should stay home. In total 2 women were forced to transfer. These transfers and the constant pressure of Héméra company on their domestic workers was such that the strike was voted and supported by a large movement of solidarity. Even some customers of the hotel showed their support.

Thus far, Héméra and the Holiday Inn have turned a blind eye to the demand for dignity and respect for work. Additionally, the workers face constant police pressure, as a chambermaid told us: “I am a chambermaid, we are picketing and demonstrating every day. The management ignores us they send the police every day.” The district’s congresswoman has said that they were not the most visible and “important” personnel of the Hotel, not the people who count. Language opposing people who count to people who are invisible has increased. This language signifies inequality.

The struggle against invisibility is constant in the cleaning service as this crucial work is in patriarchy traditionally attributed to women.

The contracted cleaners of 75 train stations of the northern “transilien” Paris railroad network went on strike after their company was sold to another service provider company in November. The companies merge, sale and buy and the workers’lives are negotiated to a lower grade. After 44 days of strike, the movement succeeded in obtaining their affiliation to the railroad collective agreement with an increase in their bonuses, a guarantee of not being transferred without their agreement and other small advantages.

This strike was a success because the train stations were visibly dirty and dirtier every day. The work of the cleaners was visible in the absence of it. Then, the public train service was more willing to push for a better ending than the warped service businesses left alone.

These movements of resistance by the invisible contracted women workers reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Contracting work is a process key in transferring public power and money into private hands that practice individualism with no concern for a sense of human dignity. The world has never been so rich and the public wealth never so low. That is the source of a human catastrophe.

 

(Photo Credit: Julien Jaulin / Hanslucas / Humanité)

From `service delivery’ to #FeesMustFall, protests target decades of neoliberal austerity

According to Ivor Chipkin, the FeesMustFall movement runs the risk of being coopted by the politicians and business people around Jacob Zuma who are stripping state owned enterprises like Eskom to the tune of billions. This after some student activists called for protests targeting the National Treasury and academic Kelly Gillespie pointed to the role of the treasury in making higher education unaffordable for the majority of Blacks.

Chipkin provides no evidence that there is a real danger that the student movements will inadvertently support the looting of the state, which seems to be the project holding the Zuma group together. In fact, he can only make his point by ignoring the politics of the FeesMustFall movement, which on the whole is diametrically opposed to that of both the Zuma and the Gordhan group. Chipkin’s political agenda is not so much that he seriously believes the students are about to support Zuma; he wants FeesMustFall to support the Gordhan group, even if only by not targeting National Treasury with criticisms and protests.

In order to support his political point, Chipkin argues that the National Treasury has not had a policy of neo-liberal austerity over the last 16 years. But the evidence he provides is as weak as his political framing of no possibilities outside of either Zuma or Gordhan.

To review the evidence, we need an idea of what ‘neo-liberal austerity’ is. Is a simple rise in spending on ‘social protection’, even a doubling over a thirteen-year period, proof enough that there is no neo-liberal austerity? This is what Chipkin suggests, but it is simplistic.

Cutting social welfare spending has been a burning ambition of neo-liberal treasuries everywhere. They have not always succeeded, because they had to contend with the balance of forces. Where there was strong resistance to such cuts, all they could do was keep this kind of expenditure as low as possible. In these cases, it does not mean they are no longer neo-liberal; it means they are neo-liberals who are not getting their own way one hundred percent.

The political essence of neo-liberalism is using the state to create the conditions for maximum wealth transfer from everyone else to the richest elite among business corporations. This is exactly what the ANC has been doing over the last two decades. This is precisely why the elite among the capitalist class is showing Gordhan so much love. From water to land to minerals to investment to monetary matters and agriculture, the ANC’s policies have included privatization, deregulation, commodification and all the other building blocks of neoliberal politics around the world. These long words all mean the same thing – state policies that protect and create opportunities for giant business corporations to make profits at the expense of everyone and everything else.

It is laughable to argue that in the middle of this general neo-liberal approach of the ANC, the treasury stands as the lone exception. Yes, expenditure on social grants has risen (though not in Gordhan’s last budget where it dropped in real terms). But these rises were never driven by what the actual needs for poverty relief and eradication were. It was carefully framed to be affordable while the tax regime leaves the wealth of the big corporates untouched and growing. A treasury that was pro-poor and against neo-liberal austerity would not have dropped taxes on these billionaire corporates as Gordhan and his predecessors have done. Instead they would have taxed them heavily not only on profit but also on accumulated wealth, which is the only way to seriously move towards ending poverty and inequality.

Research by Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima and Christopher Webb of the International Labour Research and Information Group (Ilrig) further exposes the claim that social grants is a sign that there is not a regime of neo-liberal austerity at the treasury. They explain how the payment and distribution has been outsourced to a company listed on the stock exchanges of Johannesburg and New York. Furthermore, all along the chain of the distribution and spending of the grants, micro-lenders and giant supermarkets are set up to make profit at the expense of the poor grant beneficiaries. Undoubtedly grant recipients have benefited, but the neo-liberal manner in which the grants have been distributed have benefited the usual shareholders and creditors for whom neo-liberalism is designed.

Quoting percentage increases in spending on social protection allows talk of ‘more than double’ and ‘well above inflation’, which has the sound of opulence rather than austerity. But the word austere means having no comforts or luxuries. To suggest a child grant of R350 per month means there is no austerity is fucking sick. The thing is that the grants started from such a scandalously low base, that even these large percentage increases still leave grant recipients in poverty. If this is not neo-liberal austerity, then the concept has no meaning.

Finally, Chipkin’s own account of the situation in higher education reveals that the treasury has deployed a strategy that is quite common for neo-liberal treasuries and has been used by Trevor Manuel with regard to local government. This is the strategy of ‘unfunded mandates’. An explosive increase in the number of tertiary students, without a corresponding increase in funding, pressured universities to raise the extra funding through fee increases and corporate funding that further subordinate knowledge production to neo-liberalism. The one is a direct consequence of the other and confirms the neo-liberal orientation of treasury beyond doubt.

Vice-chancellors now find themselves in a similar position to mayors. In the Manuel era funding for municipalities were cut by 90% at the same time that their service delivery responsibilities were increased manifold. Hence we had the ‘service delivery’ protests similar to the FeesMustFall protests, both ultimately caused by neo-liberal austerity policed by the treasury.

It is these community protests that won the increases in social spending, just as the student protests has already won increases in higher education spending. Both are up against the neo-liberal regime of the ANC, of which both Gordhan and Zuma are part. FeesMustFall is completely correct in targeting them both.

 

(Photo Credit 1: City Press / Ndileka Lujabe) (Photo Credit 2: Time / Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters)

The global patriarchal market and violence against women

Being a woman today is marked by violence.

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, on a square between the cathedral and the train station, about 200 women were sexually assaulted and robbed after about thousand men circled them to isolate them from the rest of the crowd. This type of assault has been reported else where in Europe: Helsinki, Zurich, and others. It has also occurred in Cairo and Tunis.

On Tahrir Square in Egypt, in 2013, during demonstrations against the government, women who were present wielding their right to be in public spaces would be circled by hundreds of men and then undressed and raped. These attacks were constant. Women and men organized and formed groups wearing fluorescent yellow jackets and helmets, to liberate the women under attack. They knew that they could not rely on the authorities or the police. The military government also used violence against women.

The same occurred in Tunisia when women took to the streets of Tunis in support of a positive transformation of the society. Since then, they have been organizing and fighting to defend their rights to public spaces.

This violence belongs to a trend that has been ignored for too long. In Cologne, the police did not intervene right away despite the system of video surveillance that is part of the globalized economies with their security market. The assaults were publicly reported only five or six days after the fact.

The fact that in Cologne most of the aggressors were North Africans and/or asylum seekers blurred the big picture and fueled resentment against immigrants and refugees, thereby encouraging racist violence. German feminists have responded: no excuse for sexual predators or for racists. Other European feminists have simplistically associated this event with the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

That presentation is limited and ignores the globalized neoliberal economy’s reliance on various strains of neo-conservatism and religious fundamentalism including Islamic fundamentalism to increase its hold on society.

One could remember, how in 1936, the phalanges, Franco supporters, whose slogan was “viva la muerte” dispersed their cruelty against women and men. They violently commanded women to stay away from public spaces, to reproduce and take care of the household. All of that was supported and encouraged by capitalists.

Clearly, women’s emancipation is one of the biggest stakes of an oppressive society.

Today, the European militarization of its borders along with austerity measures within the context of fear of “terrorism” opens the temptation of a constant state of emergency. The ordeal of women in migration facing infinite sexual violence and death during their journey is rendered invisible. What is left is the growing rhetoric for more policing and more appearance-based prejudices, which allow security markets to develop. The current paradoxical protective and aggressive discourse of the authorities puts some women under surveillance, hidden behind security forces and at the same time normalizes the position of other women as victims of sexual violence, according to race and geographical locations and conflicts.

Similarly women’s reproductive bodies, again racially defined, are under surveillance in the United States, with the incarceration of women for miscarrying or having an abortion where it is more and more difficult to get one. These signs of patriarchal essence that justifies violence against women correlate with the expansion of the neoliberal economic order that disadvantages women and minorities and throws them into precarious situations, again rendered largely invisible.

The code of silence that covers the attacks against women in Europe is troubling. In France, a recent study on sexual harassment in public transportation revealed that 100% of the women’s answers indicated various levels of harassment. Generally in Europe sexual assaults have been reported around football games, and other public events. In Cologne few days ago, a journalist of the Belgian RTBF was reporting on the beginning of Carnival and the security measures to protect women participants, when a group of white men sexually assaulted her, all this in front of the cameras.

Without a broader transnational understanding of the causes for the regression of women’s social and political right to be in public spaces, the prospect for better women’s social and political equality with men are slim.

A large transnational solidarity movement, beyond judgment, must be the force against the current trend of violence against women, the basis of all violence that is fueled by the devastating unfettered market forces that consume bodies.

 

(Image Credit 1: Osez le féminisme 69) (Image Credit 2: Osez le féminisme)

Radio WIBG: Emilie Paumard: Women’s oppression and the debt work together

Emilie Paumard

Emilie Paumard

Emilie Paumard opened the plenary session of the 4th summer University of the CADTM. She presented the debt crisis in only 12 minutes. She used cynical humor to explain how seven years ago in the North neoliberal capitalists realized that the subprime crisis was also an opportunity to dismantle social protections that had emerged in Europe over the past 50 years. These countries’ labor and sexual and reproductive laws went too far; they had to be put back in the ranks. They just had to rewrite history.

And so it came to pass.

It was not deregulation of the finance economy or financial derivatives products that caused the mess. It was the people, the women, the workers! They lived beyond their means, they should return to the “traditional” oppressive way of life! It was not 30 years of neoliberal politics!

Emilie explained that the experience of the South, ravaged by Structural Adjustment Programs, gave her the necessary insights into the system of debt and creditors to become active in the North. In addition, as a woman and as a lesbian woman, she is subjected to a system of oppressions and restrictions.

She sees the citizens’ debt audit as an important public tool that can be vector of grassroots organizing to lead to transformative initiatives. That is most needed to face this cynical and dreadful system that dispossesses the population of their rights.

The secretive functioning of the financial speculative market pulled apart necessary regulations to protect the public system. This allowed the derivative markets to become 10 times the world GDE while political discourse bragged about controlling the banks. Emilie

Paumard believes that the citizens’ debt audit allowed the oppressed population to comprehend and then organize the struggle against these opaque mechanisms that serve the neoliberal elite.

This is a feminist struggle. Now, listen to Emilie Paumard:

For a longer interview with Emilie, in French:

(Interview and photo by Brigitte Marti) (Video interview by Brigitte Marti and MarieHélène Le Ny at 50/50)

Alert: No time to rest. Women’s rights are still not rights!

In the 21st century, women are still disembodied bodies.The US Supreme Court just ruled against a buffer zone around medical/abortion centers that could have made the trip for women to reproductive care services devoid of abuses and threatening slurs. In addition in many states (such as Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota) access to abortion services is technically rendered impossible. Then, the Hyde Amendment still undermines the promise of Roe v Wade. In addition, even pregnant women may feel that their fetuses come first, as politicians don’t hesitate to declare that women are just host bodies.

In Spain, The Organic Law for the Protection of the life of the conceived and the rights of the pregnant women, first adopted by the Spanish government in December 2013, still threatens women’s rights. In January, this decision immediately triggered European opposition with thousands demonstrating in the streets of European cities and across Spain.

Who thought that the Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his ultraconservative government would have withdrawn their bill meant to send back women’s reproductive health to fascist time? They want to have it passed in the parliament in July, counting on the summer distractions.

With this bill, women will lose their right to make decisions about their bodies. 86% of Spanish people oppose this bill. The bill betrays the government’s mandate to not curtail women’s rights, which includes the right to life, dignity and auto-determination as inscribed in the Spanish constitution. These points are what the Politica Feminista Forum, an association of Spanish feminists, are pressing along with the incompatibility of this bill with Resolution 1607 of the European Council, with CEDAW’s recommendation 24 article 31c, with the International Conference on Population and Development and simply with EU laws that stipulates members state should provide safe access to abortion.

Now the attack on women’s reproductive rights is more than a trend. It goes with the doctrine of austerity to curtail public services, with growing inequalities affecting women first, not to forget criminalization of petty offences matched by the increase of police power within countries and at the borders.

One should wonder if reproduction should work like factories, since the same power is attacking labor rights. That must be a dream for neo liberal elite theorists!

Women and men in Spain, and elsewhere, are watching and acting. For Spain a petition has been circulating.

Active solidarity is needed to support resisting people in Spain, in the United States and anywhere women’s rights are compromised on the ground of morality that in fact defends financial profitability for the elite. That is not what a human society should be.

Please consider some possible actions:

http://www.change.org/es/peticiones/presidente-de-la-comisión-de-justicia-congreso-de-los-diputados-8-razones-jurídicas-contra-el-anteproyecto-de-reforma-de-la-regulación-del-aborto-de-20-12-13?utm_medium=email&utm_source=notification&utm_campaign=new_pet

or

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR41/002/2014/ar/f3c19601-5af8-4226-b071-65652f99fb5d/eur410022014en.pdf

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.forumpoliticafeminista.org)