Friday, September 28, 2018

Blowing one’s own trumpet

Donald Trump provoked laughter at the United Nations this week when he claimed that his administration had “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country”. His rambling address to the General Assembly sought to justify his “America First” policies that threaten to plunge the world into a destructive trade war while justifying US imperialism’s support for America’s lackeys across the globe.
 Trump is by no means the worst post-war US president. He has still to plunge America into another disastrous war like his predecessors did in Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Libya and Iraq. To be fair, Trump did not initiate the US intervention in Syria. That was down to Obama and the Democrats. And the maverick Republican leader did move to ease tension on the Korean peninsula with a historic summit with Chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore last summer.
But the new American war-lord has achieved little else over the past two years of his watch. He told the assembled leaders and diplomats at the UN that America’s “new approach is also yielding great strides and very historic change” in the Middle East. What that really means is encouraging the Saudi Arabians and the other feudal Arabs to step up their brutal intervention in Yemen and confront Iran,
At the same time the Trump administration continues to pursue its “deal of the century” on Palestine which gives Israel everything it wants. All the Palestinians are offered in some paltry blood-money which will come from Saudi coffers and from the money the Americans have saved by stopping their contributions to the UN’s Palestinian refugee relief fund. Needless to say this absurd plan, that has no takers apart from America’s Israeli and Saudi pawns, is going nowhere.
Trump, of course, is largely the prisoner of those who propelled him into the White House in the first place. He clearly does represent bourgeois American circles who want to cut back US military expenditure in Europe and north-east Asia so that they can concentrate on controlling the global energy market by taking over the entire Middle East and restoring US imperialism’s hegemony over south America. But they are not the dominant force within the US ruling class and they may not even be in control of the party Trump currently heads.
The dominant force within the US ruling class still dreams of the “new world order” that the Americans proclaimed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. While their public face may have been that of the late Senator John McCain, the “deep state” that represents the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the American ruling class cuts across all parties in the United States.
  They are bitterly opposed to “America First”, They are doing their best to sabotage the current rapprochement between north and south Korea and undermine any hope of a future understanding with Russia. Shamefully, the May government is collaborating in their campaign of anti-Russian provocations that are designed to prevent Trump from reaching any meaningful agreement with the Kremlin.
Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are now taking the first tentative steps towards developing an independent foreign policy for Labour in government with renewed calls for global peace and justice for the Palestinians.
We are suffering unemployment and economic stagnation. We want major cuts in military expenditure including the scrapping of Trident and the withdrawal of all British troops from the Middle East, Afghanistan and northern Ireland. The money saved should be the switched to peaceful and civil purposes and creating jobs. These are the demands that must be taken up throughout the peace and labour movement today.

The strange world of Eric Ambler

By Ben Soton

If you ever get a chance, the crime thrillers of Eric Ambler are well worth reading. Many of his novels feature cross-continental travel and are a possible inspiration for modern films such as the Bourne trilogy. The emphasis on travel is in contrast to the Agatha Christie model located in closed settings such as country houses or strange holiday islands.
The Mask of Dimitrios is an Ambler classic. This novel, first published in 1939 and made into a film in 1944, is perhaps his best and certainly the most famous. The Mask of Dimitrios is centred around the discovery of the body of a petty criminal, Dimitrios Makropoulos, on the Turkish shore. The character of Dimitrios is believed to be based on the Greek arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, a real ‘merchant of death’, although Ambler denied all knowledge of him.
A British novelist, Charles Latimer, takes an interest in the criminal’s biography with a possible view to a new novel and indulges in some investigative journalism. Latimer begins to unpick the life of this man as he travels across the Balkans and uncovers his involvement in assassination attempts, espionage, sex-trafficking and the illegal drugs trade. By making the hero a crime writer, Ambler is able to make the story a critique of the typical crime novel of the 1930s, which is exemplified by the stories of Agatha Christie. In Christie’s novels there is a dead body, a several suspects and a detective, and ends when he or she uncovers the murderer. Ambler criticises this format by stating that it simply does not reflect real life.
I myself have often wondered how Agatha Christie’s ‘Miss Marple’, an elderly spinster living in a remote village, could have such a wide understanding of the world. Many murders are not solved or are even unnoticed, miscarriages of justice take place, murderers sometimes escape justice and more importantly there is more to crime than just murder. Murder is as much a symptom of criminal activity as well as a crime in itself.
Ambler’s novel is still relevant today with its references to the illegal trade in drugs and sex trafficking. In the 1930s The League of Nations attempted to halt the international sex trade; groups of women were often transported across continents posing as dance troops. The book looks at crime from the perspective of the criminal. In the story a former associate of Dimitrios, known as Mr Peters, explains how the illegal drug trade is more lucrative than the sex trade. Peters goes into detail that when trafficking a group of women across Europe he is forced to keep them entertained in his club at some considerable expense whilst he is concerned that one of the women may inform the authorities. Meanwhile large numbers of single women in a night club would obviously attract the attention of male customers. He goes on to say that heroin can simply be stored in a warehouse at little cost in boxes marked “dates”.
The Mask of Dimitrios shows the distinctly left-wing, progressive and anti-fascist sentiments of the author. In particular, Ambler explores the role of criminal underworld types in the intrigues of fascist plots and inter-imperialist rivalries. Dimitrios, whilst in Bulgaria, was involved in an assassination attempt of a progressive prime-minister and in 1923 the left-leaning government of Alexander Stamboliyski was overthrown by a coup of reactionary army officers. A few years later Dimitrios re-emerges in Belgrade where he acquires military secrets of behalf of France. Meanwhile the book portrays the Greek Communist Marukakis in a positive light, and shows a shows international finance as corrupt and a harbinger of fascism.
Amber was a staunch anti-fascist and many of his novels written in the 1930s also show communists in a positive light. In another story, Uncommon Danger, the hero even collaborates with a Soviet agent.
Ambler unfortunately drifted to the right during the Cold War. In 1951 he wrote Judgement on Deltchev, about a show trial in a fictional eastern European country that right-wing journalist Peter Hitchens, a turn-coat Trot, put on his “top five” list of anti-communist thrillers.
But many of Ambler’s novels written in the 1930s have a distinctly progressive tone, and are a stark improvement on both Agatha Christie and reactionary thriller writers such as Len Deighton and Frederick Forsyth.    

Disposable workers: use ’em up and throw ’em away

By Daphne Liddle

A RECENT stay in hospital made me aware that working 12-hour shifts is now the norm for ward nurses in the NHS – and that this is leaving them totally exhausted and undermining their long-term health. It came as a surprise to see the same nurses who brought round the early morning medications still around up to 8pm in the evening and when I spoke to them about it they all said they found the long shifts were “killers”.
Most of them were young women and many of them mothers so they could not go home and collapse in a chair – there were children to be fed and put to bed and other household chores before they could snatch a brief night’s sleep, and then get up and do it all over again.
Nursing is a strenuous job, entailing being on one’s feet for most of the shift and involving a lot of lifting. Most of the nurses I spoke to had bad backs, shoulders, knees or hips.
One nurse told me she had tried everything to improve her bad back from Pilates, various exercises, pills and herbs – everything except rest, that is. “We’ve got to pay the bills” she said.
She told me she had applied for a transfer to outpatient working, which is not so strenuous and more like normal ‘office hours’; but those hours did not fit with her schedule for picking up her children from school. She had four young children aged between four and 11, and could not contemplate leaving them to bring themselves home from school until the youngest was at least 11, so another seven years before she could transfer to work that would be easier on her back.
I asked her if it would make any difference if the hospital provided childcare for her children. She said it would make it would be great and make it possible for her to transfer immediately to outpatient working and a normal seven or eight-hour day.
That hospital employs hundreds of women, many of whom are mothers, yet there is no provision for childcare. They spoke of another hospital a few miles away that did once provide childcare – “but that was cut due to efficiency savings”.
I asked one or two, did they realise these long hours will undermine their long-term health. They were well aware but the problems of meeting this month’s bills loomed closer.
By middle age these young workers will be permanently damaged. The bad backs and the stress will take their toll and many will have to be signed off sick long before they reach retirement age. Then they will be forced to join the growing army of former health workers trying to claim disability benefits whilst the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will treat them like undeserving scroungers. How will they pay their bills then?
The Government is their employer and is imposing working conditions that will wreck these workers’ health long before old age. It cannot plead ignorance; the evidence that excessive long hours cause serious long-term damage and shorten life is overwhelming. The Tory government is using these workers up, working them until their health breaks and then throwing them on the scrap heap. Perhaps they think it will save money on elderly care if these young people do not survive to old age.
I did ask these nurses if they were in a union. They are all in Unison. How on earth did Unison acquiesce to these working conditions?
Later I realised that 12-hour shifts are rapidly becoming the norm throughout the whole world of work in Britain. It began with zero-hours contracts and in the notorious ‘gig economy’, where workers are deemed to be self-employed, denied holiday and sickness pay and given so much work to do that it cannot be done in less than 12 hours – but that is their responsibility because they are supposed to organise their own working hours. They agree to it because the thing they fear most is not having enough work and falling deeper into debt than they already are because their wages are so low.
But how is it that workers who employed by the Government and are members of trade unions are falling into the same trap? We all know that the European Union ‘working time directive’ has been a joke from the beginning but workers in trade unions should be doing better than this.
Looking into it more closely most of them are, in theory, only supposed to do three, or at the most four, of these killer 12-hour shifts per week. Even so, work arranged in this way would still undermine their health. But cuts to staffing throughout the whole public sector mean that most work places are seriously under-staffed. This means the supervisors, or low-level management, are forever asking workers to volunteer to cover extra shifts. And the workers are eager to volunteer for this because they are all in debt, or at risk of getting into debt, because their wages will not cover the basic essentials of survival for them and their children.
The unions comply because they know the workers are desperate to get these extra shifts – even if it means literally working themselves into an early grave. And how can union reps complain to bosses about the excess hours when the workers have eagerly volunteered for all the hours they can get?
The root of the problem is the shockingly low wages but the long hours solve a lot of the bosses’ problems. In the NHS it means they have to employ far fewer very expensive agency nurses to cover gaps in staffing. It means they can cut staff to two-thirds of what was previously considered a full complement of staff because they have only two shifts a day to cover instead of three. And it leaves workers too tired to think much about their long-term health, to complain or agitate or become active in their union. When these workers have done their shifts, finally got home, got the children fed and into bed, all they want to do is grab as much sleep as they can before the next shift.
There have been many studies around the world into the physical and mental effects of long-term long-hours working. Some studies have reported numerous adverse health effects, including increased alcohol and tobacco usage, decreased birthweight in offspring and decreased cognitive functioning.
One Australian study of 18,420 workers over a 12-year period revealed poorer mental health in workers with long working hours. The researchers noted a 48 per cent increased probability regarding mental health decline in those workers working 49–59 hours per week, compared with those under standard working hours (that is, 35–40 hours per week). The probability increased by 53 per cent in those working more than 60 hours per week. They also found a difference by gender; amongst those working 49–59 hours per week, the SF-36 scores are lower amongst female than male, indicating worse mental health amongst female workers.
A different survey followed 2,960 middle-age full-time workers consisting of 2,248 men and 712 women. The results revealed a 267 per cent increase in depression symptoms and a 284 per cent increase in anxiety symptoms amongst those female workers working more than 55 hours per week compared with those under standard working hours (35–40 hours per week).
They also indicated a trend that for every 10-hour increase in weekly working hours, an associated 40 per cent increase in depression symptoms and 31 per cent increase in anxiety symptoms were noted.
Long working hours also result in an increase in suicidal thoughts. Research conducted in South Korea recruited 67,471 participants, and the results revealed 30 per cent higher suicidal ideation amongst workers having working hours more than 60 hours (31 per cent increase in male workers and 33 per cent increase in female workers).
In summary, mental effects related to long shift working include lower working satisfaction, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Amongst these, depression and anxiety are more predominant amongst female workers. Some research has proposed probable reasons for the gender difference. Female workers tend to have more household responsibilities after work, which contributes to their mental stress.
So, the proposals put forward by TUC general Secretary Francis O’Grady at the recent TUC conference to allow workers to enjoy the fruits of technical advances in production by reducing the working week to just four days will seem like a cruel joke to millions of workers in the real world, who would be glad to have the same working hours as their own grandparents in the 1950s and ‘60s.