Kazakhstan: legal shackles on workers’ movement challenged

June 21, 2015

A challenge to laws that shackle trade unions in Kazakhstan was mounted at the International Labour Conference this month – and activists hope this will boost workers’ efforts to rebuild grass-roots organisation.

The conference, staged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency,

During the strike of 2011. Photo: Zhanaozen1216.wordpress.com

During the strike of 2011. Photo: Zhanaozen1216.wordpress.com

in Geneva, said Kazakhstan would have to amend the Trade Union Law it passed last year – or face action for breaching its obligations under international treaties.

The conference said that “excessive limitations” on unions, that “limit the right of workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing”, had to be removed, and laws banning financial assistance to unions from trade unionists in other countries scrapped.

The decision came just after the Kazakh authorities refused registration to the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, an alternative to the state-run federation of “yellow” (government- and employer-controlled) unions.

Kazakhstan’s Trade Union Law was introduced on the back of the violent repression of oil workers, Read the rest of this entry »

A really big anti-austerity demo

June 20, 2015
The Bloco Liberdade samba band in the Strand on today's anti-austerity demo

The Bloco Liberdade samba band in the Strand on today’s anti-austerity demo

A huge number of people were on the streets in the UK today, protesting against the austerity policies of our vile Tory government. The media reported that the London march had well over 100,000, possibly 250,000, people on it. (The Guardian’s numbers were among the lowest, the Independent confidently went with a higher figure.)

I am a veteran demo-goer, and I thought today’s crowd was younger, and less affiliated to specific organisations (unions, left wing parties, or whatever) than usual. That’s good.

A friend was playing in the terrific Bloco Liberdade band, made up of members of Eri Okan, the London School of Samba, Barulho and the Brighton School of Samba, so I walked with them. They had some fine rhythm, and attracted more and more drummers, dancers, and people who Read the rest of this entry »

‘The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer.’ Marx on machinery is worth reading

June 18, 2015

A response to Ned Ludd by GABRIEL LEVY

Ned Ludd’s article on socialism and ecology raises important questions. What would a “real fusion” of socialism and ecology look like? How should socialist

A can factory, 1909. Source: resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com

A can factory, 1909. Source: resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com

movements look at industrialism? Is “technocracy” a concept that helps us get to grips with this?

The left “needs to abandon its mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, Ned argues. “Instead of that narrative of progress, we need to realise that industrialism is a 200-year-old bubble that is beginning to burst.”

Much of the organised left accepts uncritically assumptions about the benefits of industrial progress, and Ned’s warnings about this are justified, to my mind. The view of technology as something that marches forward outside of its social context, and will ultimately serve progressive causes in changing that social context, needs to be challenged.

The best place I can think of to start a serious critique of the “mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, as Ned proposes, is with Karl Marx. After all, Read the rest of this entry »

Towards a real fusion of socialism and ecology

June 14, 2015

(or, Why the Luddites were right, and Marx was wrong, about technology)

This guest post by NED LUDD of Breaking the Frame is published in the hope of provoking discussion. Responses are welcome! GL.

“Socialism can only be reached by bicycle” – José Antonio Viera-Gallo, Assistant Secretary of Justice in the government of Salvador Allende (Chile, 1970-73)

“Today, the main content of politics is economics, and the main content of economics is technology” – E.F. Schumacher, “Technology with a Human Face” (in Small is Beautiful, 1973)

Have you noticed how practically every critical issue about the future of our society hinges on technology? Whether it’s the global ecological crisis, the cyber womanelimination of jobs through automation, surveillance and social effects of the internet, or the threat of a new eugenics, technology is critical. Yet public debate about these issues is stuck in the myths of progress through technology and the “neutrality” of technology. The left, because of its fundamental allegiance to those myths, has not got much to say and seems to have a major blind spot in its general methodology of critique of capitalist ideology.

On the whole, the left has learned rather little from the green critique of industrialism, and as a result most left theorising on this issue mounts to little more than bolting on a rather shallow environmentalism. Confident that it owns the master narrative on these issues (i.e. the dynamics of class conflict and capitalism), the left generally does not do much better than asserting that, once we control the means of production, everything will be fine. (Of course, there have been many more sophisticated approaches, particularly from Marxist critical Read the rest of this entry »

Activists imprisoned in Azerbaijan, the house that BP built

June 7, 2015

A protest against Azerbaijan’s crackdown on political dissent will be staged in London this Friday, 12 June, as the first European Games open in Baku.

At least 33 human rights defenders, youth movement activists, bloggers, journalists and others have been jailed in the last year in Azerbaijan

Demonstrators in Baku, 16 March

Demonstrators in Baku, 16 March

– where the UK-based oil group BP is the largest foreign investor.

Campaign groups and media have been shut down, and dissidents forced to leave the country, just as economic problems have brought large numbers of Azeris out to protest.

There has been a “major escalation of government repression, pressure and intimidation, directed at NGOs, civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders”, a resolution of the European Parliament said in September last year. It highlighted:

■ Some of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, including Leyla Yunus of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, and her husband the historian Arif Yunus, have been imprisoned on “apparently politically motivated charges”;

■ “Eight activists of the non-governmental youth movement NIDA were convicted on [trumped up] charges of hooliganism, drug possession and possession of explosives” after a wave of demonstrations in 2013;

■ The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation, the only independent group championing the labour rights of Azeri oil workers, has had its bank accounts frozen and faced other forms of harassment; and

■ Many more journalists, human rights defenders and activists are facing trumped-up legal charges, and “dozens” of
Read the rest of this entry »

A radical critique of science: writing the next chapter

April 13, 2015

Social and labour movements need a coherent critique of science and technology, it was argued at a meeting in London on Saturday.

On a practical level, battles against damaging technologies have often been waged separately from each other, and cover1could do more to reinforce each other, it was pointed out.

This includes technologies deployed by corporate power in an anti-natural, anti-human way (e.g . “extreme energy” or genetic engineering of people or crops), technologies of social control (e.g. anti-crowd hardware or electronic surveillance), and technologies that harmed workers’ health and/or reinforced their exploitation (e.g. hazardous chemicals or building practices).

The use, misuse and abuse of science in developing these technologies is crucial. And the meeting highlighted the history of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS), that in the 1970s and 80s successfully mobilised scientists to work with labour and protest movements. It considered the lessons of this experience for activists today.

The gathering (title: Radical Science and Alternative Technology) was organised by the Breaking the Frame group, and featured talks by veteran BSSRS activists and by present-day campaigners. Here are my impressions of an Read the rest of this entry »

The Anthropocene? It’s just inhuman

April 1, 2015

Human activity has changed the earth so drastically that we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, says a bunch of scientists. No, it’s “capital, not humanity as such” that’s responsible, writes socialist activist and environmental researcher Andreas Malm in Jacobin magazine.

Malm argues that it’s “the reliance by capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy” that is “driving us toward disaster” – and that this is downplayed by the Anthropocene concept.

Malm hits at three targets. First, he defends social movements that take up climate issues from attack by Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species popularised the Anthropocene idea. Second, he takes on scientists who suggest

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

that human damage to the environment is a function of human productive activity in general. And third, he argues against climate science, politics and discourse that are framed as “species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation” – “ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver”.

In my view, Lynas richly deserves the polemical kicking he gets from Malm. Lynas’s rant against the left-wing journalist Naomi Klein, who argues that averting climate change is inextricably linked with the fight for social justice, is both unfounded and idiotic. Unfounded, because Lynas denounces Klein’s realistic-but-optimistic book This Changes Everything for reflecting a “miserabilist and dystopian worldview”, which it Read the rest of this entry »


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