Friday, February 26, 2010

US prison labour -- a return to slavery?

By Ray Jones

THE UNITED States holds 2.3 million people in Federal and local prisons – many of them black or Hispanic. This is half a million more than People’s China even though China’s population is five times the size of that of the United States.
The US holds 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners while only having five per cent of the world’s population. This not due to some terrible crime wave; in fact crime in the US has actually been going down while the number in prison has gone up.
Jail sentences have become longer, especially for possession of small amounts of drugs, and the “three strikes” rule means that for a minor offence – if it’s the third one – you can end up behind bars for life.
The laws themselves can have an anti working class, anti black, bias. For example, Federal law demands five years inside without parole for possession of five grammes of crack cocaine but to get five years for possession of cocaine powder you need to have 500 grammes. Why the difference? Well, crack is more common in black and Hispanic areas while cocaine powder is the preferred drug of the white middle class.
There is evidence to suggest that the drive behind this is economic, tainted with racism.
Prison labour in the US can be said to have its origins in slavery. After the Civil War when slaves were officially freed many were forced to enter the sharecropping system, where they orked somebody else’s land in return for a small share of the crop.
Those who in anyway breached their contracts or were convicted of minor crimes were arrested and then “hired-out” by the authorities to pick cotton, work in mines or build railroads. In the Deep South almost all those “hired-out” were of course black.
In 1885 Texas forced prisoners, mostly black, to haul granite to build the new state capital. The skilled stone cutters’ union protested at the use of prison labour and boycotted the building site and in reply the contractor brought in scab stone cutters all the way from Scotland to break the strike.
In Briceville, Tennessee, in 1891 coal mine owners insisted on banning union membership and miners were locked-out while convicts were brought in to scab. The response of the miners was to attack the stockade where the prisoners were held and set them free. The company then gave in and the miners were rehired and no more prison labour was used.
By the end of the 1900s most states had ended the use of contract prison labour; partly due to the public out cry at the brutality often involved and partly due to corruption, as firms bribed authorities to get the cheapest labour. But the infamous chain gangs of the South continued until the 1950s and were even resurrected in the 1990s in Alabama and Arizona to work on roads.
Federal Prison Industries Inc., trade name UNICOR, is a government-owned corporation that was formed in 1934 on the overt grounds that idleness in prisons was a problem and that prisoners would benefit from learning skills and labour discipline. UNICOR now has a sales total of about $2.4 billion and rising.
The number of private prisons run for profit has increased from five in 1998 to over a hundred today.
According to US law prison industries are restricted in what and when they can sell to the general public and indeed most of UNICOR’s sales go government agencies such as the military. All military helmets, bullet-proof vests – along with more mundane things such as shirts and pants – are made by prison labour and agencies are obliged to give prison manufacture priority.
But the prison industry is allowed to sell to the public under certain conditions – if they pay the “prevailing wage” for the work and if part of that wage goes as restitution to victims of crime.
Also there is a Federal minimum wage that currently stands at $7.25 per hour and most states have their own minimum which is usually a little higher (although in at least one case it is lower!). In those states which don’t set their own minimum, these are largely in the poorer South, the Federal rate is supposed to apply.
Prison work is, according to law, voluntary.
These regulations are designed to protect small and medium businesses and free labour from unfair competition and prisoners from sinking into virtual slavery. But more and more they are being circumvented in the drive for profit. Both unions and some small businesses have been fighting a running battle against the exploitation of prison labour but it is hard going.
One morning, for example, members of the Teamsters union (transport and general workers) turned up outside a notorious low-paying firm to leaflet the early shift in an attempt to organise the company. To their amazement the shift turned up in a prison van!
Providing services is not restricted by law so many call centres are now staffed by prisoners.
When radical lawyer Tony Serra ended up in a Federal prison for non payment of taxes he was put to work in the prison garden for 19 cents-per-hour and noted that other inmates were paid as little as five cents-per-hour for much harder work.
Inmates in Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana have been de-boning chickens for four cents-per-hour for a private company.
Although many prisoners do volunteer to work to escape from mind-crushing boredom and in the hope of a little pocket money, there are often repercussions for those who refuse to. They can end up spending more time behind bars or even in solitary confinement so how far many can be said to freely volunteer is open to serious doubt.
Those who do “volunteer” are often short-changed and end up working for a pittance, especially in private prisons. Deductions from wages for victim compensation, travel, room and board (!) and other fees can reduce the final amount to just a few cents.
Work for prisoners is of course desirable, for their own sakes and for society’s. But it must be humane and done in a way which incorporates them into the organised working class – capitalism obviously is going to have serious problems in organising either of these imperatives.

Joint Statement on EU summit

Joint Statement of Communist and Workers Parties of the EU Countries

The EU Summit of Heads of States of February 11 signals a new severe attack against the working class and the peoples of Europe. The resolutions of the Summit, in accordance with the “EU 2020 Strategy” which promotes and deepens the Lisbon Strategy, intensify the anti-people policy of the European Union and the bourgeois governments by means of hard measures against the working class and the people. They seek to reinforce the profitability of the European monopolies both within the European Union and in the international imperialist competition.

The EU strategy for an exit from the crisis is based on the imposition of sweeping changes in social security systems, on the increase in retirement ages and on drastic cuts in salaries, pensions and social benefits as a whole. This attack bears the stamp of the liberal and social democratic forces which have supported the strategy of capital in cooperation with the European Union.

The deficit and public debt and the supervision of the economies of several member-states including Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and other countries are used for the ideological intimidation of the working people throughout Europe.

The transnational companies and the banks made immense profits through the exploitation of the workers and from state subsidies tax reliefs, both before and during the crisis. They now compete for the lion’s share of the new lending. Once again they place the burden on workers, the poor and small and medium family farmers and the self-employed by means of scaremongering and intimidation.

The spirit of resistance is intensified among the European workers who are not ready to bear the cost of crisis for which they are not liable in the least. In Greece, Portugal and other countries, workers, civil servants and small and medium farmers are holding public demonstrations and going on strike against the austerity measures taken. The Communist and Workers Parties signatories are playing a protagonist role in this movement, being in the front line of the class struggle.

The Communist and Workers’ Parties call on the working class and peoples in each country to organize their counterattack and to condemn the parties that support the EU anti-people offensive; to strengthen the ranks of the class oriented labour movement; to reject social partnership that promotes antipeople policies, and give a strong response to the anti-people assault, demanding instead: full and stable employment with full rights for all, substantial increase in salaries, the abolition of all anti-welfare and anti-labour laws, a reduction in retirement ages and exclusively free Education, Health and Welfare. Workers can live better without capitalists; it is they who produce the wealth and therefore they should enjoy it.

The Parties

1. Workers' Party of Belgium
2. Communist Party of Britain
3. New Communist Party of Britain
4. Communist Party of Bulgaria
5. Party of the Bulgarian Communists
6. AKEL, Cyprus
7. Communist Party in Denmark
8. Communist Party of Estonia
9. Communist Party of Finland
10. Communist Party of Greece
11. Hungarian Communist Workers' Party
12. Communist Party of Ireland
13. Workers' Party of Ireland
14. Party of the Italian Communists, Italy
15. Socialist Party of Latvia
16. Socialist Party of Lithuania
17. Communist Party of Luxembourg
18. Communist Party of Malta
19. New Communist Party of the Netherlands
20. Communist Party of Poland
21. Communist Party of Romania
22. Communist Party of Slovakia
23. Communist Party of Peoples of Spain
24. Communist Party of Sweden

As Norway is an associated member of the EU,
Communist Party of Norway also endorses the statement.

Other Parties
Pole de Renaissance Communiste en France

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Revolutionary leader Kim Jong Il

NEXT WEEK millions of Koreans will be celebrating the birthday of Kim Jong Il — the leader of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Korean communist movement that liberated the country from Japanese oppression during the Second World War and beat off the combined might of Anglo-American imperialism and their lackeys during the Korean war.
Communists in Britain and comrades throughout the world will be joining them in holding events demonstrating their solidarity with the Korean revolution and the Workers’ Party of Korea that has led the Korean people, under the leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to victory after victory in a struggle that began in the 1920s and continues to this day across the divided Korean peninsula.
The modern Korean communist movement was founded by Kim Il Sung and the young militants around him to fight the Japanese colonialists and build a revolutionary communist movement that would give the Korean workers and peasants a new life under socialism. Building a guerrilla army that took on the might of the Japanese Empire, Kim Il Sung mobilised the masses in a struggle that ended in victory in 1945 and the establishment of a people’s government in the north of the country.
The Workers’ Party of Korea, with Kim Il Sung at the helm, led the battle for land reform, education and socialist construction in the 1950s and 60s and then pushed forward on the engineering, technical and scientific fronts to build a modern socialist republic, where every individual worker is master of his or her own life. The DPRK stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the peoples of the Third World struggling to break the chains of colonialism and gave technical and economic aid to their new republics to defend their freedom and independence.
When Kim Il Sung passed away his successor, Kim Jong Il, told the Korean people and the world that they could “expect no change from him” and under his leadership, the Workers’ Party of Korea has won great victories in recent years. Natural disasters have been overcome. Imperialist diplomatic isolation was broken and the intrigues of US imperialism have been exposed. Democratic Korean scientists mastered the secrets of the atom to guarantee the DPRK’s defence and energy needs and now Korean rockets reach for the stars.
The tragedy of Korea is that it has been divided since the Second World War and that division is entirely due to the United States, which has propped up a servile regime in south Korea to maintain American imperialism’s military, strategic and economic dominance of north-east Asia.
A monstrous concrete wall divides Korea. Tens of thousands of American troops remain are stationed in the south, backed by a US nuclear armada that threatens the DPRK and its neighbours. The communist movement is outlawed in the south and contacts with the north are tightly controlled by the repressive regime.
The Democratic Korean government has worked tirelessly to end the partition of the country. It has called on the United States to normalise relations with the DPRK. A proposal for the re-unification of Korea based on the principle of “one country-two systems” — similar to the one that led to the peaceful return of Hong Kong and Macau to the People’s Republic of China — remains on the table.
Democratic Korea threatens no one, but the imperialist campaign to demonise and isolate the people’s government continues as a smokescreen to cover US plans to dominate the entire Pacific basin.
While we join the Korean people in their celebrations we must redouble our efforts to build solidarity with the DPRK and raise the demand for the withdrawal of all American troops from south Korea and an end to the partition of the country.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

European communist & workers' parties statement

4th European Communist Meeting on Education
Brussels, February 5, 2010

There is only one historical truth, the one written by the peoples!

The 4th European Communist Meeting education was held in Brussels on February 5th. This year the meeting engaged with the distortion of the history of the Second World War in the process of education.

The meeting was organised by the Communist Party of Greece and took place in the building of the European Parliament.

25 representatives from European communist and workers parties participated in the meeting. During the meeting the participants presented facts from school and academic books about the falsification of the Second World War history; they unveiled the goals of this campaign and referred to their experiences from the action against the ideological manipulation of the youth.

The meeting issued the following joint statement:

Joint Statement

We, the undersigned parties, condemn the fierce anticommunist campaign that is under way throughout Europe. Imperialist organisations such as the EU, NATO, as well as OSCE, the Council of Europe and almost all of the European bourgeois governments have launched and escalate an anticommunist campaign of lies and slander with the strategic goal being to contaminate workers and people’s consciousness with blatant anticommunism. Their objective is to erase the unprecedented contribution of socialism in the 20th century and assert the alleged permanence of the capitalist system. In conditions of capitalist crisis anticommunism is the spearhead for the promotion of the most severe offensive against workers. This offensive by the EU, the bourgeois class and the governments that support them (liberal and social-democrat) aims to ensure maximum profitability for capital. They promote anticommunism as regards all historical events distorting the socialist and even the national democratic revolutions, the class struggle and historical development. They aim especially at young people so they may not learn the historical truth and adopt the antisocialist propaganda.

The falsification of History –and especially the history of the USSR- has but one purpose: impeding European workers and peoples just to conceive the possibility and necessity to overthrow the unbearable capitalist system and replace it by socialism.

One of the central targets of this ideological and political attack is the distortion of World War II history. An attempt is made to identify openly socialism-communism with fascism without any historical basis when it is clear that Nazism and Fascism are based on an ideology of hatred and xenophobia, while communism and socialism are based on an ideology of solidarity and social justice. The two are distinct and opposite ideologies. Particular efforts are made to distort the causes of World War II declaring the 23rd of August as a day of anticommunist remembrance. The attempt to violate historical truth continues through the conscious depreciation of the indispensable role of the USSR in the great Anti-fascist Victory and in the post-war developments. The anti-socialist propaganda and the recent events on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Demolition of the Berlin Wall fall into line with the same reactionary direction of falsification of the historical truth.

The historical truth cannot be erased. The contribution of socialism to the defeat of fascism, to the people’s rights, to the confidence for the future and to people’s achievements in the socialist countries is indisputable. We must also underline the impact of these achievements in favour of the working class in the capitalist countries forcing the capitalists to make concessions towards the struggle of the peoples. Despite any weaknesses and problems, the achievements of socialism are today a pipe dream for the people when capitalism cannot and is not going to solve the problems that afflict people.

We will support with all our strength the struggle to defend and highlight the historical and scientific truth at schools, institutions and universities. We demand the eradication of anti-communism from the school-books and academic teaching. It is necessary that the young generations should be taught and learn the historical truth about World War II, the laws of nature and human society. In particular, they should learn Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Marxist theory of class structure, class struggle and of the analysis of capitalism as an economical system. The role of Communist and Workers’ Parties as well as of the Communist Youth Organizations in this issue is vital as regards the work in wide masses, in particular of young workers and students. To this effort may contribute not only the enlightening but also the scientific work of scientists, educators, academic and social personalities. The working class and the poor popular strata can fight for a society without exploitation, for socialism.

We strongly condemn the persecution and banning of Communist Parties and Communist Youth Organizations; we express our full solidarity with all the victims of anticommunist attacks and of the witch hunt. It becomes evident what the “democracy” of the EU, capital and the multinationals means. It has class content, is democracy for the few and exploitation and oppression for the many.

1. Workers' Party of Belgium
2. Communist Party of Britain
3. New Communist Party of Britain
4. Party of the Bulgarian Communists
5. Socialist Workers' Party of Croatia
6. AKEL-Cyprus
7. Communist Party of Bohemia Moravia
8. Communist Party in Denmark
9. Communist Party of Denmark
10. Communist Party of Estonia
11. German Communist Party (DKP)
12. Communist Party of Greece
13. The Workers' Party of Ireland
14. Socialist Party of Latvia
15. Socialist Party of Lithuania
16. Communist Party of Luxembourg
17. Communist Party of Malta
18. New Communist Party of the Netherlands
19. Communist Party of Poland
20. Portuguese Communist Party
21. Communist Party of Russian Federation
22. Communist Workers' Party of Russia - Revolutionary Party of Communists
23. Communist Party of Slovakia
24. Union of Communists of Ukraine

As guest: Pole de Renaissance Communiste en France