Thursday, 17 March 2016

Donald Trump and the American Working Class

The American elections are heating up, but I'm not going to talk about that here, instead I wish to talk about something that I feel is far more instructive to what we can expect from a Trump Presidency. Personally speaking I think the best measure of a politicians intentions real values, and leadership style and priorities is by their actions and not their rhetoric. To hell with "I'm _______ and I approve this message" and the obligatory "Paid for by a committee that's backing a rival to the politician we've just been attacking". Actions speak louder than words, or at least they should. Strangely politics is the one area where this isn't always true.

Now longtime readers will know I've opposed Donald Trump on principal for a number of years, I still think his actions in Scotland and Aberdeen in particular expose the man's priorities, ruining the lives of the local population so he can build another shrine to his own vanity. But today I have another example, Mr Trump is a businessman, and like all good capitalists he has a workforce. This workforce is organising because because Trump and his management haven't quite got around to making his own workforce great at all, never mind again.

I am a housekeeper at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas. This past December, a majority of employees like me at Trump Las Vegas voted YES to a union. But Trump's company has refused listen to us and honor the results of our election.
Instead, they've blocked negotiations through legal challenges – which so far have gone nowhere. A federal officer recently recommended that the company’s list of objections be "overruled in their entirety" – and that the NLRB certify the union.Instead of sitting down to negotiate a fair contract, Trump company lawyers are still fighting to overturn the election.
If Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again,” he should start by negotiating a deal with his us – his Las Vegas hotel employees – just like his company did for workers at Trump Toronto in Canada.
Just last year, Trump workers in Canada voted for a union and have since negotiated their first contract – a deal that gives workers much like us a chance to provide for their families, keep their kids healthy, enjoy job protections and security, and one day retire with dignity.

Even the smallest slither of a concession from a businessman takes month's even years of organising and campaigning before it'll even come close to seeing the light of day. Toronto has organised successfully but the upper management stubbornly resist its spread.

This week Donald Trump’s hotel in Las Vegas is facing more heat for its labor record. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued another federal complaint against Trump Ruffin Commercial, LLC, alleging that the company unlawfully terminated one employee and discriminated against another based on their union support, and promised employees job opportunities if they abandoned the union.
Trump’s company has driven an aggressive anti-union campaign since workers began organizing at the Trump Las Vegas in 2014.  The complaint issued this week is the third one brought by federal government against Trump Las Vegas alleging unfair labor practices. In prior complaints, federal officials have alleged that Trump’s hotel company engaged in the following unlawful activities: 1) maintaining rules prohibiting workers from communicating with one another and the public; 2) interrogations and surveillance; 3) intimidation of employees by Trump management and security staff, including a manager physically pushing employees; and 4) suspensions and a threat to fire union supporters.
 Trump's company treats its own workforce like hostile children in need of control and harassment. The concessions made to the Canadian workforce are welcome, but I can't help noticing that the darling of American Nationalism treats foreign workers better than those from the Fatherland, but to be fair to the man cross class rhetoric combined with anti worker policies are standard practice with all major nationalist movements, so he's really just going along with the flow here.

I mean he's not been coy about demonising migrant workers and taking a patriotic guise to American Labor, which is probably why he's been attracting so much support from those white supremacists and ghosts, and yet his actions and the actions of his company say the opposite.
Reuters reports that in just the last month Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida applied for 70 visas for foreign workers because they could be paid lower wages than American workers, even as Trump hit the campaign trail denigrating Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. Since 2000, Trump-affiliated companies have sought 1,100 temporary visas for foreign workers, and most of the requested vias were approved.

The Las Vegas workers took part in the protests in Chicago

If Trump is this callous and dismissive of his own workforce, the very people who made his fortune that he's now using to run a Presidential campaign, then how will he react towards American workers whom haven't done anything for him?

His workers already live under a Trump Presidency, as the capitalist he controls their means of existence and daily routines,  they know what his policies are like and most of them hate it, this should be very instructive to the entire American population, and yet I don't belief its received much coverage.

Oh and if your reading this and are American and don't like Donald Trump much, then I urge you to support the workers of Donald Trump's companies in their protests and organisation attempts, no matter what happened come election day a stronger more combative workforce in Trumps corporate empire will only be an improvement. Of course everyone should be doing this for all workers everywhere but given the situation giving extra support to Trump staff makes sense.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Far East Ostalgia: Thoughts on the bizarre love affair of hardliner “communists” with the Kim Dynasty

For a good few years now I’ve been annoyed by this bizarre phenomena that is the North Korean fan club. I couldn’t understand why a group that prides itself on being “Pure” and deeply committed to the revolution and the ideal of workers state would waste so much time defending the honour of the Kim dictatorship. Making dictators that oppose one or more Western power look like the best thing since sliced bread isn’t anything new for this sorry shower, but even for them the DPRK should be a bridge too far.

This is a “Democratic People’s Republic” that isn’t Democratic even in the liberal Bourgeois sense –though that hasn’t stop them before- hell it isn’t even a republic. It’s a monarchy founded with 20th century baggage. While the Kings of old had court advisers they have a Politburo, instead of lesser nobles there’s Korean Workers Party chiefs, the knightly orders are replaced with the Special Operations Forces, and the role of the witch hunter is filled by the State Security Department that hunts down heretics from the Cult of Personality surrounding the Kim trinity, Kim Il Sung the Father, Kim Jong il the Son and now Kim Jong Un the holy ghost (he is everywhere after all). Now I’m being a little flippant, but only a little of all the parallels the comparison to the trinity is the biggest stretch but only because it’s a direct illusion to Christianity and so not really culturally appropriate. A Confucian comparison would be better, but my knowledge of Confucius begins with wall calenders, vaguely racist "Confucius say" jokes and that film released in 2010.

North Korea is so backward it lacks even the progressive tint that’s used as the foundation for the lines taken by so many “anti-imperialist” post 50’s tankies. I’ve seen dozens of documentaries on North Korea, many of which have interviews with members of the government and military, and all of their comments are filled with rampant nationalism, and bombastic militarism. On rare occasions one of them briefly mentions socialism, but it’s never expanded on and always came sandwiched between nationalist platitudes. I’ve also read a number of books on North Korea and even frequent the Korean Central News Agency website (the official English language site that reports from North Korean government)  I’ve never seen or heard them use any of the usual tropes and holy words all the other regimes did that these wannabe despots trip over themselves to praise. Hell by their own admission they rejected Karl Marx and the socialist concept of class, rejecting the two classes in conflict, in favour of national harmony between 55 class categories. Yes that’s right, North Korean society is based on total loyalty to the nation state, and has stratified its citizenry into 55 categories, based on occupation, family positions, and even ancestry is taken into account. 

Indeed, it started taking the works of Communist thinkers whose work contradicted and challenged the North Korean state out of wide circulation in the 60’s. “Books on Marx disappeared from library shelves about this time(1)as well. People could read Marx only in a few select libraries, and scholars had tio produce a reason for reading him.” 
Amusingly, the cult of Kim Il Sung also supplanted this crowds number one idle Stalin. “Three years after Stalin’s death, his cult of personality was officially denounced at the 20th Congress of the CPSU. This de-Stalinization influenced the DPRK as well: Stalin’s portraits were removed and the Soviet songs were to be performed in the new, edited variant. For example, if under Stalin North Koreans sang “Our toast is for the Motherland, our toast is for Stalin, our toast is for the banner of victories,” after 1956 the toast was supposed to be proclaimed not for Stalin, but for the party.
In the mid-1950s Kim Il Sung, who after Stalin death’s felt much more confident, started a campaign against Soviet influence, emphasizing the need for everything that is Korean and national. Since Stalin was neither Korean, nor national, his image began to wither away. It was not done very fast, and what is now Victory Street in Pyongyang kept its old name – Stalin Street – up to the 1970s. And in the late 1960s the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin were removed from libraries and access to them was restricted: Kim Il Sung had no need for predecessors. After the DPRK became politically independent from the Soviet Union, Stalin still remained in the North Korean political discourse, but he occupied the place similar to that of Kim Il Sung in Stalin’s USSR: the leader of a friendly, but clearly a “junior” state, a positive figure which, as such, bowed to the world leader.”(2) 
And the regime has continued dropping bit by bit the old associations with any none Korean leftist.

Now would be the time were I bring up North Korea’s murderous regime and oppression of its population including its proletariat. But there isn’t any point because that’s true of every regime this crowd has championed. Of all the features of the North Korean system, its brutality towards its own citizen is by far its most typical feature.

It’s not really a surprise that these so called radical communists and militant socialists are nothing of the sort. Prick them on this and they’ll quickly pull up a North Korean state document maintaining that the DPRK is a socialist state, or Kim Jong Il’s speeches or books where he talks about the importance of “Socialist Construction” etc. But all that does is expose their own blatant ignorance of socialism. Poke them about authoritarianism and they’ll bring up the elections, rather hypocritically as many of these people will quickly denounce elections in western nations as shams, and in North Korea every eligible political party takes part in the same front with the Workers Party of Korea, meaning that elections in North Korea are even more pointless than usual. 

However the extensive lip service paid by the regimes of old to “socialism” international revolution and the working classes gave them enough jargon to camouflage themselves. North Korea doesn’t give them much room to do this, its isolationist instead of internationalist, and its preoccupation is reunification of Korea and building up its military industry at the expense of living standards for the average North Korean, both nationalist pursuits in place of workers liberation. These cheerleaders of the Dear Leader still try to paint North Korea as a model Socialist society, but the gulf between reality and their arguments is so vast and so noticeable that they don’t wash with anyone not already inducted, and makes them look callous and delusional.

But why this brutal cold war relic in particular? Why doesn’t China, Laos, Vietnam or Cuba command the affections of this crowd? Especially since they all make a much better show of continuity with the good old days? Well the answer may lie in the combination of militaristic posturing and state control of the economy.  Of all the other “Communist countries” left the one that could compete with North Korea for the affections of this crowd (though why they’d want to I don’t know) was Cuba. And what is Cuba famous for? A leadership clad in Olive green army fatigues shouting angrily at the US, state control of all production including sugar cane cultivators, and sponsoring revolts in Africa and Latin America. However since the 90’s Cuba has progressively followed a more market orientated economy, and conciliation with the USA. And it’s been years since Cuban soldiers have been seen carrying out nefarious schemes in the third world. Che Guevara still has some pull but overall the enthusiasm for the sunshine Stalinist state has dimmed amongst the ranks of the hard liners. 

Compare this to North Korea, a regime that repeated threatens its neighbours and the US with missile, nuclear missiles and maintains a stranglehold on the economy. When I first started visiting youtube the only “socialist” videos I found for years, were footage of Soviet mayday parades with thousands of soldiers, tanks and missiles. I have also seen many of these pro NK types take time out to specifically congratulate the North Koreans on nuclear weapons tests and rocket launches. This from the types who shrilly denounce NATO and the US armed forces. I have also seen these Kimchi jingo’s celebrate the execution of Jang sun-Taek because he was apparently a capitalist sell out.   So that covers the military fetishism, what about standing up to the markets?

Well like most things concerning North Korea reality shows the official line to be wishful thinking at best and outright lie at worst. The North Korean economy much like its claims to democracy and socialism only helps proves how out of touch the cheerleaders of the Great General are. I could launch into a lecture about the collapse of the ration system in the 90’s during the famine, privileges for heads of industrial and agricultural concerns, the existence of wage labour, the state taking surplus profit from economy to invest elsewhere, the state operating like a corporation, the establishment of state owned companies, and the thriving black market which tarnishing the ideal of a fully planned economy, but I don’t really need to. North Korea doesn’t really oppose market capitalism or private finance. It welcomes them provided the terms of the deals made benefit its overall aims. North Korea’s mobile phone network was built by an Egyptian company Orascom, which joint owns a public/private partnership company called Koryolink. A public private partnership was the key pillar to Tony Blair’s economic vision, and is usually seen by tankies as the first crack in the walls of a “socialist economy” when it occurs elsewhere. Nor is it the only example 

 In the past, China persuaded North Korea with various joint venture projects arguing that, “You have nothing to lose from these projects. Although it’s based on market principles, ultimately it’s beneficial for both parties.” North Korea on the other hand maintained the stance, “You (China) invest and we will manage,” holding on to management rights of these companies. However, for this very reason Chinese companies were reluctant to directly invest in North Korea. Even after contracts were signed, large -scale investment did not transpire due to poor management.
However, North Korea finally yielded to China’s request, handing over major management rights to Chinese investors. This recent move is analyzed as an attempt to attract more foreign investment to actualize North Korea’s goal of building a “Strong and Prosperous Nation” by 2012. With large-scale management rights transferred to the Chinese companies for joint ventures, the DPRK-China economic cooperation volume is expected to grow.
There's also official commitments by the DPRK to protect foreign investment.

Indeed the DPRK is so eager to encourage investment in North Korea, that it set up the IKBC (The International Korean Business Centre) and advertises its services through the Korean Friendship Association the official mouthpiece of the North Korean fan club. 

The IKBC sales pitch includes the following:

Lowest labour cost in Asia.
Highly qualified, loyal and motivated personnel. Education, housing and health service is provided free to all citizens. As opposed to other Asian countries, worker's will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.
Lowest taxes scheme in Asia. Especially for high-tech factories. Typical tax exemption for the first two years.
No middle agents. All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies.
Stable. A government with solid security and very stable political system, without corruption.
Full diplomatic relations with most EU members and rest of countries.
New market. Many areas of business and exclusive distribution of products (sole-distribution).
Transparant legal work. Legal procedures, intellectual rights, patents and warranties for investors settled.

So an official arm of the North Korean government is other monopoly capital schemes, corporate tax cuts, and guarantees the loyalty of its workforce? How's that for socialism?

So why the lack of alarm in this case? Well the North Korean state is still the main force in the North Korea’s economy and it’s not squeamish about taking severe action against those who failure to deliver, so this goes away to reassuring them. Several companies that do actually invest in North Korea have been alleging being ripped off. But realistically speaking, I  think they just don't want to see it. I know some of these fellows turned a blind eye to Fidel Castro’s early reforms or justified them as pragmatic, and ended up condemning his brother Raul for continuing the reform process. North Korea still lags behind the alternatives, especially China and Vietnam so it’s the last stop on the line. If North Korea goes “revisionist” or “capitalist roader” then that’s it. This is a loose coalition of people made up of those who for decades have deflected criticism by simply pointing to examples of “actually existing socialism” so without an actual example of “actually existing socialism” they have no more platform. The other big trend in this group are the extreme anti western “progressives/socialists/anti-imperialists” who also have few options else left now since all the other anti western “modernisers” have either capitulated to the western order or been overthrown. Well Assad’s still clinging on in Syria, and it’s possible a Conservative shift in Iran could reopen wounds.  There’s also Putin, but his brand of conservatism and capitalist economics will keep all but the most desperate from rallying around him now.  He's even increased his criticism of the Soviet Union so no one but those strange Russian nationalists whom dress like 1940's red army officers will stick around.

There is another question here, does any of this matter? I would say yes but admit this North Korean caucus is a minor problem. Compared to all the other obstacles and outright threats we face. Though Korean Friendship Association et al  have raised funds for North Korea and been used as an intermediary for business deals and who knows where that money goes? Their existence and visibility is also an embarrassment  for individuals and groups identified with socialism or communism from interacting with the public. Explicitly Anarchist groups don't have that problem, but that's mostly because in the mainstream anarchism is still associated with Individualistic Terror.   But the equation of socialism and workers power with Juche and the Workers Party of Korea is an issue, just like how it was when the Soviet Union was around. Now North Korea isn’t as imposing and omnipresent as the Soviet Union or China during Mao’s day, but it has and will pop up in places. There are parts of the world where North Korea is quite well known and where this problem will be more pronounced, South Korea and Japan spring to mind, but also parts of Africa where North Korea has some involvement via trade and aid. There are Kim Il Sung study groups and societies in countries like Nigeria and Tanzania(3). 

 Yes of course. There are so many North Koreans here. They are in Nigeria helping us, in our health care system, with our agriculture.  They also provide technical experience and there are also some joint ventures between Nigerians and North Koreans. These joint ventures are in chemicals, fertilizers, agricultures, furniture, marble, mostly from granite (the North Koreans are very good in this), hospitals in Yobe, Adamawa, Zamfara, Enugu, Nasarawa, Delta, Rivers and Borno as well as Lagos states.The three DPRK doctors that were killed were working in Yobe state, which is in the northeastern part of Nigeria. As you may aware, the northeastern part of Nigeria is the hot bed of the insurgency in Nigeria.

North Korean vice Minister of the the Ministry of Peoples’ Security, Mr. Ri Song Chol (2ndL) inspects weapons at a police training academy in Kampala. AFP 2013
And here in the jolly old UK we have the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist Leninist (CPGB-ML) a group that champions North Korea among other things. Again I must confess my ignorance, despite encountering them several times online, I've never had the pleasure of meeting these folks in the flesh, indeed I've can't recall seeing a banner or group participating in the TUC marches I used to go too. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're not a force in another region. Although to be fair to North Korea, the CPGB-ML has many other daft ideas, and still champions a few of the other progressive strongmen like Assad and Castro.
I think we can declare the US save from the threat of Kimilsungism, for now

So I think that these embarrassing “comrades” can be considered an active problem, and added to the list. Unfortunately I don’t have much in the way of a practical solution; the one positive I can say about these people is their dedication to the cause. More the pity they’ve chosen such a rotten banner to fly. They’ll keep on banging the (war)drum until the regime itself goes away or is no longer to their liking. Public criticism of North Korea and other “progressive” dictatorships might help a little but making it a priority given the low level of trouble this lot have caused (unless of course you’re in an area where there’s a pro NK group of some size) would be a mistake. You may think that’s hypocritical of me having written all this, but it’s not a priority for me either, I wrote this at work during a break from my other projects, and felt compelled to because as a NK watcher I encounter these people regularly and get tired of their callous and ignorant bile.

 1: From Exit Emperor Kim Jong Il, “this time” refers to the March 25th purge in 1967 of a “liberal” Kapsan faction of the party and the expansion of censorship and the positioning of Kim il Sung as the Supreme Leader.
2: From an article by Fyodor Tertitskiy on NKnews
3:In addition to material and military aid, North Korea has built a number of governmental buildings and national stadiums for various African countries.  

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