Friday, December 17, 2010

Death Of Those Garments Workers

Thirty-one workers died of fire and smoke in a garments factory near Savar, a few km from Dhaka, as parts of the factory gutted on Dec. 14, 2010.
What’s her name? And, his? His? Her?
What’s the use value with their names? They had names. But those names are useless now. They are nameless. Or, they could be identified with any name. Shefalee, Halima, Rafiqul, Kabirul, Shohaagee. Below-ordinary guys they were. The names were below-ordinary. Humbled and shackled life bears no name. At terminal point, they just turn into number.
They were faceless. Do faceless souls bear any name? No. Even, names with faceless souls carry no name-value. Put on any face on there. Any face will fit in appropriately.
Yes. Those faceless faces smiled. Those faceless faces bore lines of pain, overflowing pains. And, at moments, silent signs of anger played on corners of those faces. But all those, pains, anger and smiles slipped into oblivion at regular intervals, into unknown unconscious universe.
They just embodied labor, a source of resource. They embodied labor-power. They were wage-slaves. And, also were sellers. They sold whatever they had. They had only that labor to sell. No commodity could be produced without their labor-power, and no profit could be pocketed without appropriating their labor. But they had no control on their labor-power.
They had liberty. They had no liberty. They were at liberty not to go to labor market and not to sale their labor. But as hunger was their companion, as uncertainty was their associate, as fear was their yokefellow, as there were dependents on them back at home, they had to turn slave to wage, they had to mortgage their liberty, they had to forget the opportunities liberty offered.
What the fears they carried in their brains?
The same fears all wage-slaves carry. A sense of “perpetual insecurity…. Fear of losing a job. Fear of not finding a job. …Fear of boss’s wrath.” (Michael D. Yates “Class: A Personal Story”) The fear of, as Sweezy wrote, losing face if turned unemployed. Those were ordinary, simple, petty fears, the fears petty guys nourish: the Lilliputian fear of going hungry, going uncared and untreated if turned sick, the petty fear of eviction from rented home, the trivial fear of failure to maintain family of insignificant dependents. Those fears carry neither use value nor exchange value in markets that sale incensed candles and diamond ornaments and skin whitening cream.
Had they no dream?
Probably, they had. Probably, there was no space for dream. Only hunger, only empty stomach, only thirst for survival, only the desire to squelch an antagonistic time overwhelmed their dream. Or, probably, that thirst, that desire to squelch was their dream. Time worked like a wrench on their life, and pulled out whatever dream they had. Or, probably, needles, threads, buttons and hooks, constantly circling smaller wheels, sharp blades cutting cloth, or, bright lights over head, panes separating them from sunlight, or, railroad stripe, sunny side, true blue, winter wheat, sunset pink, pitch black, white, yellow, green and sky blue colors overwhelmed their dreams. Probably, their dream fleeted away towards an absent crimson red. It turned fugitive. Fugitive dreams those were.
What the thoughts they had in their last moments?
What can they think of? The near-to-illiterate or semi-literate folks, almost a nuisance in an honestly crook world, don’t think. They just produce, just consume, they just consume only to produce. A sub-human life bears no power to think of anything. How can a guy think if the guy goes down to the level of machine, if the fellow befriends machine and turns into part of machine? Machine’s rhythm is their rhythm of life. How can a folk think if he sells out all his time to a merchant named mere survival? They join production line, come back to their dingy dens, consume vulgarly and sleep haphazardly only to turn fit for next day’s production. They were miser enough not to allocate any space for reflection. Or, they were not masters of their time that could allow them to think or perceive or reflect. Their last moments probably failed to get separated from that time in cage.
Or, probably, they recollected some hopeless faces waiting for them. Probably, those were the hapless faces of their mothers, of fathers or wives, or of innocent faces of their children, minor, absolutely unaware of powerful tentacles of cruel reality. Probably, they thought of their fate abandoned even by fractions of fortune.
Or, probably, they had no intellectual capacity to think at all. That capacity probably has been forfeited long ago.
How many are they, those perished into flames and smokes in the garments factory there near Savar, Dhaka in mid-December?
The number, one or thirty-one, does not matter. Insignificant persons create no number. They have no power to generate that arithmetical articulation. Number-game doesn’t take them into account. Their produce is calculated only. And, to ensure that produce their consumption is monitored. Their consumption creates markets. That is carefully calculated. They will fail to produce if they don’t consume. Capital cannot be generated if they fail to consume. That consumption-failure will bring in failure in production, in productivity and consequently, in regeneration of capital. Their consumption up to a level is good news.
And, the perished-numbers there in a gutted garments factory near Savar is a mere single incident or accident, a simple addition to the numbers over the years. Taking into account will simply over-burden a sympathetic mind. It is better to forget those numbers. There is nothing to worry as long as there is a huge reserve army of labor in waiting. New numbers will join in the ranks behind machines. Perished-numbers are always gone with memories. Chariots of commodities will circle trade centers. Is not it better to forget those perished despite their strivings to survive? There are lots of Natha, the burned to death fall guy of Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live. Forget them. Are not they forgotten? Doesn’t it bring peace to a sound mind if they are forgotten?
But shall they be forgotten?
Difficult question to answer. Probably. Probably, they will not be. The perished are not necessary-numbers. There is a burgeoning reserve army of labor. Rather, some tricky accounting method will find out an extra niche for extra profit with the perish- puzzle.
A thin possibility of have-not-forgotten-you may reside in the fading memories of an old mother, an ailing father, a young widow with unfriendly world around, a sister, a brother, a daughter or a son. But the grieved will not be allowed to shed tears as a very powerful force will push them out from the grave of grief. It is the force of hunger, the force of poverty, a major force that shapes lives of millions, that shapes politics. The certainty of uncertainty will pull them out and will not allow them to keep the memories of the perished-numbers for long. The grieved below-ordinary near ones have to dry down tears as soon as possible as the whip of survival will dictate that way and they have to run and rush for finding out food, for finding shelter. It is like luxury to them to sit idle and shed tears. The competing forces in market economy cannot afford that inefficient use of body-power that creates tears.
But time will tick. Probably, someday somewhere someone will dig out facts of perished garments workers’ last sleep from the pages of newspapers and from online-news sites and calculate the cost labor paid in search of a decent life.
This article was published at , on 15th December, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Loud London Day

Student activism and politics in the United Kingdom, both at national level, have shown their close connection. Both, moored in economy, are acting with each other, and pronouncing aloud old questions related to politics, citizens’ rights, state’s role, and education.
Consequently, political problems are raising heads seeds of which were sowed by the orthodox politics of perpetuating disparity and disregarding principles of equity. London tiptoed these problems followed by a day of protest, and a stray incident of anger ventilation. This reflects the mood in general: ready to reject and protest austerity the ruling class is imposing.
Hundreds of coach loads of students and lecturers from across England joined together on November 10, 2010 to protest plans to treble tuition fees and cut university funding in England. A section of the protesters, in the words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Stephenson, to the “embarrassment for London”, hurled eggs and bottles, and took over Tory headquarters after pushing back outnumbered, and virtually baffled policemen there. Banners set on fire added heat to the scene while a few other acts told intensity of anger. The London police later regained control of the building with smashed windows and protest flags flown from the roof after “moving the crowd back … a meter every minute”. Demonstrators also gathered outside the Liberal Democrat headquarters as the LibDems were wearing a mask of hypocrisy.
The National Union of Students has threatened to try to unseat LibDem MPs who go back on pre-election pledges they made to oppose any rise in tuition fees. All the LibDem MPs including the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable signed pre-election promises to oppose any increase in fees. In June, Nick said the coalition would bring in a right for voters to re-call their MP and force a by-election if the MP was found to have been engaged in “serious wrong-doing”. Now, students’ first target is Nick. Nick is now also repentant for his election-pledge to oppose increase in tuition fees. But still now there is no law to make “re-call” possible. That may assure the pledge-bound MPs.
While the massive protest march of more than 50 thousand students was passing off peacefully the Question Time in the Commons witnessed a fiery exchange between the Nick and Labour Party's Harriet Harman over fees. On the London streets, the protesting students shouted: “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”. Students from many higher seats of education including Oxford, Birmingham and Ulster Universities joined the peaceful protest march. David Barclay, Oxford University Student Union president, said: “This is the day a generation of politicians learns that though they might forget their promises, students won’t.” But, protests do not always help politicians learn. They wait, in most cases, till defeat pushes them down from the stage of politics. But, defeat does not act all the time. Sections of politicians know the trick.
The protesters in the Tory headquarters building released a statement that opposed all cuts, marketization of education, and “the system of helping the rich and attacking the poor”. They stood “in solidarity with public sector workers, and all poor, disabled, elderly and working people”, and called “for direct action to oppose these cuts.” It said: “This is only the beginning of the resistance to the destruction of our education system and public services.” The statement seems universal as education has been and being marketed in most of the countries, as poor, disabled, elderly and working people are suffering in most of the countries.
Protesting students raised the question of disparity. One of the student leaders said: “Politicians don’t seem to care. They should be taking money from people who earn seven-figure salaries, not from students who don’t have any money.” Similarly, the issue of actually making a market with university fees has also been raised. Sections of politicians really do not care; never do they have any intention to put their hands in the pockets of the rich to finance poor men’s welfare program.
A boom for private universities is being apprehended by students. They see the plan as the abandonment of the key principle of state funding for teaching, withdrawal of funding for subjects other than science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and privatization of university teaching. Politics for status quo will not like philosophy, literature and history as these do not ensure profit.
Organized by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, the march was the biggest student demonstration in generations that told: “We’re in the fight of our lives ... we face an unprecedented attack on our future before it has even begun. They’re proposing barbaric cuts that would brutalize our colleges and universities. This is just the beginning ... the resistance begins here.” Brutalization of educational institutions in many countries has been initiated many years ago as corporate capital made those serve corporate interests, as sections of educational institutions were made part of military-industrial complex. One of the student leaders said that the “miserable vision” would be resisted, and students would take their protests to their constituencies. Probably, this November will witness more student protests.
The government plan, an incomplete compromise, has failed to mask its pro-rich face in a reality of disparity. According to the NUS, “The number of black students applying to go to university has fallen by 10 per cent since 1997 and the number of applications from men from working-class backgrounds fell by 7 per cent in the same period”. The NUS said that proposals for “top-up fees” – extra tuition charges of up to £5,000 suggested by Vice-Chancellors at some of the top universities – threatened to turn the higher-education system into one based on financial muscle, rather than academic. In many countries, education solely relies on financial muscle; the poor lack that muscle.
Even a section of LibDems protested their party’s position. Students in Northern Ireland apprehended that the same fees increase would be imposed on them. This led them to protests at Stormont.
The flare at the Tory HQ is an indicator of a country ready to rise in protest against pro-rich steps, against job cuts, against making education commodity and making it a domain of the financially powerful. It may be, as an NUS leader claimed, the “beginning of a campaign to run until the General Election to persuade political parties to rule out top up fees.” Goldsmiths students recently took over Deptford Town Hall. There were a few more incidents of student protest in the UK this year. The London student protest carries deeper message, a message against making education mere investment for profit, a message for establishing “link between education and the broader social good.”
There is a possibility that workers under the sword of job cut will also rise in protest. Thousands of council job losses at Sandwell council, Derbyshire County Council, Leeds City Council and Stoke on Trent City Council are waiting for the working persons. The student protest may add encouragement.
The London student march is now part of politics, an initiative by students to safeguard their space, an initiative that requires interacting with politics, an initiative that feels compelled to pull out issues related to politics. The London student march shows, a lesson for many in many countries, student activism should not ignore student problems in the name of getting engaged with lofty-sounding slogans.

This article was published in, an alternative news site,  November 12, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made an error on the date of melting away of the Himalayan glaciers. The climate-change sceptics started hysterical propaganda capitalising the error. But the panel has clarified that while it had made an error on the date, it did not make a mistake about the melting away of the Himalayan glaciers. There is no doubt that people depending on the Himalayan waters will be affected as glaciers there recede… We in Bangladesh should be aware of it,
writes Farooque Chowdhury

This handout photo taken on October 6 and released on October 8 by the shows the safe upper limit for carbon in the atmosphere—350ppm—in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Environment groups are gearing up for what they say will be the world’s biggest day of climate change action today, hoping their grassroots movement will inspire reluctant world leaders.
— AFP photo

TODAY is 10.10.10, One Day on Earth. People around the planet are carrying on many activities that tell their urge to save mother earth, to consider global realities. Why not we join them, a human endeavour expressing love for life?
   Organisers of this initiative claim: ‘One Day on Earth is committed to nurturing a supportive, vibrant, tolerant, and creative community. We hope to be as open as possible and allow you to celebrate your personal perspectives freely. It is exciting and revolutionary to be able to share perspectives of such quality with people across the world in one place.’ They object to any ‘political’ contribution: ‘[Do not] proselytise your religion or political agenda through messages or comments to people you don’t know. They may find this offensive.’
   On 10.10.10, citizens, students and many from other walks of life including documentary filmmakers will record human experience over a 24-hour period and ‘contribute their voice to the largest participatory media event in history.’ One Day on Earth, formed in 2008, is ‘creating an online community, shared archive, and film to show the diversity, conflict, tragedy, and triumph that occur in one day.’ Their plan is to ‘establish a community that not only watches, but participates.’
   Dr Gideon Polya, who teaches science at a major Australian university and has published about 130 works in a five-decade scientific career, wrote (, October 8): ‘My personal contribution to the 10.10.10 event has been to put up more than 100 posters in Melbourne setting out the number of people dying avoidably each day from deprivation (60,000), the number of people expected to die daily on average in the 21st century if man-made climate change is not addressed (270,000) and what we can and must do to stop climate catastrophe.’
   He has also sent a letter to Australian and other media that tells of climate catastrophe the planet is facing, and of pains of war, invasion, bombing, etc., an independent, non-profit, international grassroots campaign that aims to mobilise a global climate movement united by a common call to action, is spreading an understanding of the science and a shared vision for a fair policy, we will ensure that the world creates bold and equitable solutions to the climate crisis. It says: ‘350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in ‘parts per million’ (ppm), so 350ppm is the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need a different kind of PPM — a “people powered movement” that is made of people like you in every corner of the planet.’ states: ‘On 10.10.10, we will celebrate the biggest day of practical action to cut carbon that the world has ever seen. Together, in thousands of communities around the world, we will get to work on projects that will build our clean energy future. But we won’t stop there — we’ll be using the day to pressure our leaders to get to work themselves by passing strong climate policies promoting clean energy and reducing emission.’
   Bill McKibben for the whole team wrote on October 8 (‘Crazy...In A Good Way’, Countercurrents): ‘When we first announced the Global Work Party’ he was worried as ‘It had been a discouraging year, with the failures in Copenhagen and in the US Congress, and the unwillingness of governments all over the world to take any sort of meaningful climate action.’ But now, he feels ‘I didn’t need to worry’ as ‘it’s clear that we’re on track to shoot past 7,000 events in 188 countries… [T]he entire planet is engaged… [T]his is the first issue that involves the entire planet.’
   Dr James Lovelock FRS and Professor Kevin Anderson have recently estimated that fewer than one billion people will survive this century due to global warming – noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, these estimates translate to a climate genocide involving deaths of about 10 billion people this century (a daily average of 270,000 avoidable deaths).
   An Inter Press Service report by Bhuwan Sharma datelined Kathmandu, October 5, said: ‘Snow cover in the Himalayas is decreasing, crevasses are opening up in the glaciers, avalanches have been occurring frequently for the past two years. Small puddles of water even at an altitude of 8,000 meters were observed last year. Dhe, a village near the Tibet border, is now being dubbed as Nepal’s first “climate refugee village”. Efforts are now underway to resettle the entire village to a lower area. The sources of water there are drying up, the flora in and around the area are vanishing fast, which leave the villagers’ cattle herds and other grazing animals with little to eat.’
   The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made an error on the date of melting away of the Himalayan glaciers. The climate-change sceptics started hysterical propaganda capitalising the error. But the panel has clarified that while it had made an error on the date, it did not make a mistake about the melting away of the Himalayan glaciers.
   Quoting Madan Shrestha of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, the IPS report said there was ‘scientific evidence to prove that climate change is causing the Himalayan glaciers to retreat.’ Shrestha, studying Nepal’s glaciers since 1974, was shocked to see a picture taken in October 2009 of the Yala glacier in Nepal: ‘The … glacier’s mass had decreased and there was a significant terminus retreat.’
   There is no doubt that people depending on the Himalayan waters will be affected as glaciers there recede. People will have to pay with their life and livelihood. We in Bangladesh should be aware of it. The climate crisis should not miss our attention.
   People around the world are taking steps. The Obama administration is going to put solar panels on the White House. President Nasheed of the Maldives has installed solar panels. The 10.10.10 reminds us to mobilise the masses on the issue.
   Dr James Hansen, a top US climate scientist and head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Spaces Studies, was asked before the Copenhagen climate summit: ‘Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis?’ He replied: ‘Absolutely. It is possible… The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach… must be exposed. We must rebel against such politics as usual. …[C]limate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control. Science … reveals what is needed to stabilise atmospheric composition and climate. Geophysical data … show that the problem is solvable, if we phase out global coal emissions within 20 years and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale.’
   10.10.10 calls for making this goal possible.

This editorial published at  NewAge, one of the leading English dailies in Bangladesh, October 10, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A piglet went to market

A piglet’s journey to market in October, 2010 helped expose the other face of microfinance that promised to make poverty archaic.
A news report, datelined Vladivostok, Oct. 15, said: The seven-month old piglet’s journey to holy market was to pay off a woman’s micro debt of $432 to a bank in Russia, part of former Soviet Union. The ignorant piglet was seized by powerful officers from the unfortunate woman as she failed to pay off her debt within 10 days. It was put up for sale to recuperate a portion of the debt. A court survey assessed that the piglet was her most valuable asset. The commodity, the piglet, was awaiting a buyer at Primorye, a place made famous by a song telling the victorious march of the poor men’s Red Army in 1917, at the time of dispatching the news.
To make the news meaningful, the news agency added the following backgrounder: “Consumer debt in Russia has crippled local economies in some of the country’s poor rural and industrial areas”. (
The piglet-story is not a lone example of microfinance’s “merciful” face.  A vernacular Dhaka daily informed: In late-October in Galachipa, a southern Bangladesh locality, an organisation engaged with micro credit grabbed the house of a poor family and dismantled it. The reason: failure to repay a debt of Tk 12,000 (approximately $172). (The Daily Ittefaq, Oct. 22, 2010, p.2) The full “story” is more illogical and cruel. [Not included here considering word limit of the article].
While one microfinance story originated in Russia, an economy embracing capitalism, the other one was from Bangladesh, claiming to be the cradle of credit micro in size. These two were accompanied by another story from India, an emerging economy with millions of poor in its base.
The Hindu, April 19, 2010 news report said: “Some Collectors sent reports about the harassment of borrowers, intimidation, manhandling, abusing and outraging the modesty of women and extreme punishment like making defaulters stand in the hot sun, tying them to trees and making them run in open grounds.” ( It was in the rural areas of Andhra Pradesh, a southern state.
In a similar situation in Andhra Pradesh in 2005-06, the state government appointed a committee as micro credit debtors caught in the debt trap were committing suicide. The committee recommended “to crack the whip on the [Micro Financing Institutions] for grossly violating the human rights of borrowers in the name of loan recovery…”
These are only three examples of many that show a trend. Committing suicide by thousands of debt-ridden farmers in India made news headlines in the Indian press for a number of times. Bangladesh holds many examples, a few of which were documented/referred by mainstream studies/researches. (Those are not being mentioned here as that may appear singling out organisations and individuals.)
This reality has forced Devinder Sharma, an Indian expert, to ask: The ugly face of microfinance was never in doubt. But now even the dark underbelly is coming out in the open. I wonder how much more evidence is required to put a stop to this barbaric activity that goes on unchecked in the name of empowering the poorest of the poor. (“The Barbaric Ways of Micro-finance”, Countercurrents, April 21, 2010)
A few questions may crop up from these incidents. What is the reason behind that failed the Russian rural lady pay back her debt? What is the perspective that forced the Bangladesh MFI act in the way the news story mentioned? Why the MFIs harass, intimidate, manhandle their debtors in India? Is this the deal a pauper, a poor debtor deserves? Are these simply stray incidents, mere exceptions? Are these news a part of disinformation? Or, are there grains of reality? Are these the symptoms of a disease? Do these questions qualify for a serious enquiry?
There is an easy escape way from these questions, if these haunt a serene “conscience”: just ignore the news and forget the questions.
But, shall that be a matured, as an individual and as a society, posture? History of matured rulers and of arrogant tyrants provides the answer. The British shahibs, the powerful colonial rulers representing a mighty empire, ultimately failed to ignore indigo planters’ acts of torments that brewed up the Indigo Rebellion, a rising made by underfed, apparently subdued and meek Bengal peasants. Dynamics of oppression and protest made the humble victor and compelled the repressors to retreat. Till now, history has denied to revolve in a different way, has denied to take a different path.

This article published as an opinion at bdnews24, Bangladesh's first online newspaper.November 14, 2010

Strong Unions Are The Best Hope Inside Capitalism

The San Jose Mine incident in Chile has again brought forward old questions related to labor and capital. In the backdrop of the San Jose Mine incident, the 33 miners' struggle to win life, Michael D Yates , Associate Editor of Monthly Review , was interviewed by Farooque Chowdhury. Michael D Yates was for many years professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown , USA . He is the author of In and Out of the Working Class (2009), (with Fred Magdoff) The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (2009), Cheap Motels and a Hotplate (2007), Naming the System (2004), Why Unions Matter (1998), Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs (1994), all published by Monthly Review Press. Following are Michael Yates' responses to the questions:
Question : From your writings it stands that miners' life is well known to you. What's your reaction to the episode that the world witnessed in the San Jose Mine in Chile ?
Michael D Yates : There is a special solidarity in mining communities, because of the danger of working underground, where at any time you could die.  People live in constant fear of this.  My reaction was to assume that the owners were lax in terms of safety, and this appears to be the case. Hopefully this episode will fuel more militancy among the miners and their communities.  On a purely human level, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be trapped like that.  But now the men will be expected to work as always, and the fame they have now will soon enough fade. They will be affected in many negative ways, psychologically not the least.  However, the media won't be around to report on that, and the concern the world has now will disappear.
On the basis of statistics it can be deduced that mining is one of the deadliest occupations. Then, why people enter into mine? What is the hard fact?
People work in mines because they need work.  Their mobility is not great, and if their communities have always sent men into the mines (I don't know if women work in the mines there or not), then it is a natural thing for young men to follow suit.  There may even be notions that mining is a way to win your manhood.  Then too unions are usually strong in mining, so the pay, etc, are usually above average.  Working class life is hard and full of dangers in any event.  It is not as if the average worker has unlimited opportunities.  Quite the contrary.
As one searches the pages of mining history one will find that a lot of changes have entered into mining, and into miners' life. On the contrary, a lot of “things” have not changed. What are those, on both sides, changes and unaltered?
Mining technology has changed considerably, with a good deal of mechanization replacing hand labor.  Much more of this should occur, so as few people as possible have to be miners.  This won't happen under capitalism, however.  What has remained the same in most of the world is the constant danger, the callousness of the owners, and the collusion between the owners and the government.  Where the unions of miners are strong, conditions are always better, but this is a constant struggle that waxes and wanes over time.
What are the reasons behind?
Always the profit motive, the goal of accumulating capital is behind nearly everything that matters in working class life.  You see what happens when capitals is in charge in a country like China , where mining disasters are not at all uncommon, all the roe so as the nation becomes increasingly capitalist.
Is there no way out from the life miners are entrapped into?
Strong unions are the best hope inside capitalism.  Only the abolition of capitalism can liberate miners and all other workers. 
What are the hindrances in improving the working and living conditions of miners?
They are the same as for all workers: the power of capital, the power of the state, divisions of all sorts among the workers.  As miners overcome their divisions and come to see more clearly the root causes of their oppression, they begin to take actions to get out of the trap. 
Is improving working and living conditions for miners costlier than the “cost” for lives? How it affects productivity and, essentially returns?
Of course, a life is always worth more than profits. The owners don't see it this way, and that is why the miners must organize and force the owners to accept a different calculus.  Then the owners will try to keep profits up in the face of higher wages and better conditions, including safety.  The owners always have the upper hand at the workplace since they own the capital.  So miners have to organize politically as well. In purely technical terms, union miners are probably more productive as they will be better trained, etc. But they may not be more profitable.  Hence, there is constant class struggle .
In Capital, Marx refers to a note by Liebig that tells the mine owners compelled the miners to consume bread and bean though the miners disliked beans which was liked by horses. But the owners' choice was dictated by the interest of return as beans provided the power the miners needed to bring up metal load from deep down. Now, it seems, labor is less important than material, the support systems in mines, and the life they have been pushed into, meager wages, ramshackle congested homes without water, sewage system, and proper ventilation system, diseases, etc., constant fear of unemployment, the abject poverty. In many lands, these are not different from the condition of the working class in England Engels described, rather miserable than that. These are now a bit documented. Even the mainstream media sometimes mention this fact. Is it that miners' living condition is now not a factor for capital regeneration as there is a huge reserve army of labor?
This may be true in many parts of the world.  We have to expect owners to calculate costs with no concern for the workers, as they think of the workers as implements of production, no different that the materials and machines used. Whatever lowers costs and raises profits will be done, absent strong class organization.
And, has that intensified the rate of appropriation of surplus labor?
Yes, it always does.
We know legendary John Henry, the “steel-driving man”, who swung a 4.4-kg sledge hammer with each hand for 12 hours a day, pounding steel chisels as deep as 14 ft 4.2 m into solid rock. He is a hero of labor, and a symbol of humanity's determination. How the San Jose miners shall be remembered by the present period that finds deep in the Moon and the Mars being explored, and by posterity?
Unless the miners force the issue by radically strengthening their organization, they will be just another footnote in history.
And, how humanity shall remember this crude, callous capital that called in this cruelty in the San Jose mine?
The answer is the same as for the previous question. As Mother Jones, the legendary miners' angel and organizer, said, Don't mourn, organize.
Thank you.   
You are welcome!  Solidarity ! 
This article published at Monthly Review, an Independent Socialist Magazine
A different version of the same interview was first published in the 4 November 2010 issue of New Age, one of the leading English dailies in Bangladesh. 

Labour market recession

Protesters dressed as bankers and traders take part in an EU-wide demonstration against austerity on September 29, 2010 in Brussels. Placard at the centre reads: "Leave our earnings" and at right: "Don't touch our benefits."
The Great Financial Crisis generated by stagnation in the matured capitalist economies has pushed labour into a troubled time that has increased tension in socio-political scenario. Long “labour market recession” worsens social outlook in many countries, says ILO’s “World of Work Report 2010 – from one crisis to the next?”
It’s not only poor countries that are facing this reality. The advanced capitalist nations are also having similar experience. The United States, UK, France, Germany, Japan are passing through a tense socio-political situation. China, the newly emerged economic power, and countries across Europe, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, are experiencing the same.
Quickly vanishing social benefits, decreasing real wages, widening income inequality, and slashed down employment are an old “story” in advanced capitalist countries. Cutting down wages, pensions, etc., are now the “wise” austerity measures being taken by capital. The day before yesterday, it was in Greece; yesterday, it was in France; and today, it is in Britain. This is actually a violation of contract, and an act of snatching away of a portion of wage earners’ income. The austerity measures, planned/implemented, are creating turmoil as labour finds no alternative other than fight for its rights that were achieved long ago. The easiest way capital finds is to put its burden on labour, its inherent tact. But “fiscal policy shifted to austerity …,” the ILO report said, “if badly designed, will prolong the job crisis.”
Europe has witnessed reactions to austerity measures on September 29, 2010. France has experienced this in September, and is witnessing in October, 2010. Spain and Portugal are not exceptions. Austerity cutbacks, however, are an economic “disaster”, said Nobel Prize winner economist Joseph Stiglitz in early September. “If that [austerity] happens … the economic downturn will last far longer and human suffering will be all the greater.” He warned that Europe was heading towards more economic difficulties if politicians cut back spending rather than calm down the financial markets. “If the UK, Germany or other countries [follow austerity policies], then it is going to have systemic consequences for Europe and the whole world.” A country like Bangladesh cannot escape the impact either.
The ILO study said: employment “prospects have worsened significantly in many countries”. If the present policies persist, a recovery in employment to pre-crisis levels will be delayed until 2015 in advanced economies. A year ago it was projected to be 2013. More than 8 million new jobs are still needed to return to pre-crisis levels in the emerging and underdeveloped countries.
This is the limit capital is bound within. “Unemployment” as Michal Kalecki wrote, “is an integral part of the ‘normal’ capitalist system” (“Political Aspects of Full Employment”). The Great Financial Crisis has only reiterated this fact.
“In … 35 countries … nearly 40 per cent of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year…”, the ILO report said. Labour hence faces “significant risks of demoralisation, loss of self-esteem and mental health problems.” Since the onset of the crisis, 29.4 million jobs were lost in 68 countries. Of these, the “Advanced countries” lost 18 million jobs. It was followed by the former Soviet republics, and the central and eastern Europe: 4.7 million. They were followed by Latin America and the Caribbean: 3.1 million. In Asia and the Pacific, and Africa the numbers were 2 million and 1.6 million respectively.
In at least 25 countries, ILO has found cases of social unrest related to the financial and economic crisis. A number of recovering emerging economies experienced social unrest over the level of wages and working conditions.
Protests, expanding horizontally and vertically, are increasing in frequency and force. Occupation of plants and blockades by workers are now a common feature in advanced bourgeois democracies. “Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension” (Kalecki, op. cit.).
The ILO report informs that by the end of 2009, more than four million jobseekers had stopped looking for work in different countries for which information is available. This information speaks of a frustrating situation in the life of job seekers.
In more than three-quarters of 82 countries, the report said, people perceive that their quality of life and standard of living declined in 2009 compared to similar data from 2006. Satisfaction at work has deteriorated significantly among the people having job. A sense of unfairness was growing in 46 countries. In 36 countries, people have less confidence in governments now than prior to the crisis.
ILO suggests stimulating job creation, better-quality economic growth, strengthening of job-centred and active labour market policies, support vulnerable groups. It also suggests promoting a closer link between wages and productivity gains in surplus countries, and financial reform. The report said: Income-led growth depends on reinforced collective bargaining and social dialogue, well-designed minimum wage policies, and social protection systems.
The report, however, misses the fundamental flaws, repeatedly discussed by Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, John Bellamy Foster, Fred Magdoff since long, in the matured capitalist economies: 1. the secular stagnation, 2. absence of opportunity for profit in the so-called real economy, 3. financialisation, and 4. shift of centre of gravity from productive economy to finance sector.
Labour is being blackmailed with threat of relocating plants to countries with low wages, low union intensity, and lax regulations. Labour is being compelled by capital to enter into new contracts with lower wages, longer working hours, etc. Workers, a few years back, in the Siemens factories in Rhineland Westphalia (Germany) had to accept extension of their workweek from 35 hours to 40 hours without additional compensation and revoking bonuses for Christmas and vacations. In return, the company promised not to relocate its factories to Hungary. Hundreds of companies are now in that bandwagon. DaimlerChrysler, Bosch, MAN and others moved with personnel cuts, longer working days/weeks, etc. Some European leaders consider the measures taken by multinationals as “corporate blackmail.” Cutting down of unemployment insurance payments from 32 months to a maximum of 12 months have been done in some European countries. In France, small companies revoked the 35-hour workweek. In an automobile plant in Spain, workers had to agree to work an average of 37 minutes more each day, by shortening their break periods. Out sourcing, sub-contracting, export processing zone, special economic zones, etc. measures are well known weapons of capital to press labour.
Years ago Fred Magdoff and Harry Magdoff wrote: “These are difficult times for workers. … [L]abor is struggling to maintain existing wages and benefits … while conditions of workers in the periphery are even more difficult. (“Disposable Workers: Today’s Reserve Army of Labor”)

This article published as an opinion at bdnews24, Bangladesh's first online newspaper.October 29, 2010

Flaming France

Probably, today’s France will put a lesson before the section of scholars despising political protests in poor countries that narrow down or snatch away democratic space and distort political process, and will show a portion of politicians that the French politicians are not accusing external actors of hatching plots to torpedo the French economy,

FRANCE, now flaming with popular discontent, shows the limits of matured bourgeois democracy in an advanced capitalist country encountering financial and economic crises. Workers and students, millions in number, across the country are virtually repudiating neo-liberal measures.
   Crippling general strikes for days, and demonstrations by about 3.5 million people that took a violent and radical face, have made France the centre of attention. The pension reform is being opposed as protests are polarising the political-scape with frequent press reports of ‘politicians’ extravagance including exclusive Cuban cigars and liberal use of private jets at the state’s expense.’ The width of the protests was producing news almost every few hours.
   According to some estimates, the raising of the retirement age would bring one million job losses. Decreasing wages, increasing poverty, soaring unemployment, deplorable working condition, anguish against the class ‘favoured by society’, and rejection of rightist politics prepared the perspective of this protest.
   Imports of electricity—5,990 megawatts were imported in one hour on Wednesday, which was equivalent to the output of six nuclear reactors—by the French authorities in the face of dwindling fuel supply show the wide impact of the protest. Striking 12 refinery workers and tanker drivers drying oil supplies, shut down thousands of schools, walked out students blocking school and university entrances and suburban youths clashing with the police in cities added force to the fight workers from public and private sectors are waging.
   A survey, published in Le Monde, found a quarter of French youth ‘want a radical transformation of society through revolutionary change.’ Students marched alongside labour union activists and leftist militants in a highly charged situation when the middle class is feeling insecure and losing confidence in the present regime. Use of the term ‘children of revolution’ by an international news organisation speaks of the active role the students are taking in the present protest.
   Blockaded entrances to airports by protesters, hundreds of cancelled flights, stayed away trains and commuter services, stranded ships, about 70, in ports striking for 17 days, were part of the series of protests in this month that tell a showdown between labour defending their rights and social benefits and President Sarkozy at the head of an increasingly divided ruling class. The class is facing pressure both from the present world financial crisis, and from its competitors within Europe. Its attempt to put its burden on the common people in the name of austerity is part of its incapacity to get rid of its own problem that has been created by its economy. The problems in economy are intruding the arena of politics. Ironically, it itself is mobilising broader sections of the society against its economic programme!
   At least 244 demonstrations all over France show the breadth of the protest. It was reported that some police personnel joined the protests in Paris which are spreading from below. The strike by the Eiffel Tower staff shows, symbolically, France is in turmoil, which has found about 1,500 people detained and 62 police officers injured.
   The turmoil began in late May. The summer break widened the movement, in frequency and number, with millions participating in October in an economy still shaky since the Great Financial Crisis. ‘Renewable’ strikes in railways, education, ports and refineries, each day workers in mass assembly decide continuing the action, are intensifying class struggle. ‘What the parliament does, the street can undo,’ read a patch on one protester’s arm, which is in reference to actions in the legislature and onto streets.
   From press reports it appear that disgusted conservative supporters are also turning supporters of the socialists while a shaken Sarkozy government used police to break the blockades of the oil refineries and oil depots. The protesters re-imposed blockade within hours the police broke the first blockade that reflects their attitude. The fuel crisis has intensified as workers in nuclear power plants have slowed down power generation.
   The incidents will influence the next presidential election in 2012, and future political equations. One poll in October found Sarkozy’s approval rating down to 30 per cent, the lowest for three years. Even mainstream press carries comments and interviews that strongly indicate moving mood towards further radicalisation with slogans: tax the rich, expropriate the banks, job for all, no more austerity. Financial Times found ‘A flavour of 1968 radicalism.’ The union leaders are feeling the pressure of the mass movement. One of the major unions is now openly calling for a general strike. But a number of factors in this turmoil are still unidentified.
   The current movement is the most militant and powerful struggle since the 2006 uprising. Protesters occupied the Marseille Chamber of Commerce. They were, however, later pushed out.
   Europe is now witnessing resurgence of labour actions in the continent. The French protest is the most intensive and wide among those. Changes are going on in the balance of forces between the working class and capital in a deeper way making France an important country for further development of class struggle in Europe.
   France has gone through intensive debates over the decades: nuclear power, medical ethics, fast food chain and halal meat, housing problem, immigrants, and burqa. Even its football team generated debate and anger reflecting a divided politics. Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, stunned France by reaching the final round of the presidential election. The 2005 riot in the poor, predominantly immigrant communities showed deprivation, divide, and a sterile culture. ‘It is individualism, selfishness, every man for himself, with the only value of human success being how much you get at the end of the month,’ said Jérôme Cahuzac, a Socialist MP. These factors, in society, psychology, and politics, are also influencing the present movement.
   The 1995 general strike stopped the ‘Juppé Plan’, programme of welfare cutbacks. But none is sure of the success of the present protest in stopping the pension age legislation. Authorities, it seems, are still confident of its strength to successfully push through their neo-liberal agenda: dismantle social security system. The working people now have no alternative other than rise up in protest. But lack of political platform, matured political steps, coordination, and failure in further widening of their fold may send them back home after days of violent protest, which is still lurching in the precinct of spontaneity.
   There is no basis to imagine that the present protest will bring down the French capital. But it shows limits of the capital and its politics: it is incapable of resolving the contradictions in the realm of distribution, neither in economy nor in politics, and its political process is failing to accommodate needs of the people, which has pushed the protesters onto the streets, into actions of torching vehicles, smashing shops, and rampaging.
   The present French furore reminds today’s mid-age persons of Paris in 1968, the largest and longest general strike in European history that rocked France. There were the student insurrection in May, De Gaulle’s flight to Germany, workers occupation of plants, slogans for a ‘people’s government’, ministers burning secret documents, workers taking control of cities, roads and public transport, and issuing food coupons. That movement stumbled over. The present movement has not still reached to that level.
   Probably, today’s France will put a lesson before the section of scholars despising political protests in poor countries that narrow down or snatch away democratic space and distort political process, and will show a portion of politicians that the French politicians are not accusing external actors of hatching plots to torpedo the French economy.
   Success or abortive effort of the present French protest will not be the last act of the French people opposing neo-liberalism. The movement, if subdued by force and tricks, and compelled to retreat, will learn lessons and equip itself for future rising for a fair share in economy and politics.

This editorial published at The NEWAGE, Daily newspaper, one of the leading English dailies in Bangladesh