Posts Tagged ‘egypt’
by stuartbramhall in The Wars in the Middle East, Things That Aren't What They Seem
In my opinion, a brilliant analysis by Tony Cartalucci at Land Destroyer Report is a must-read: chiefly because it identifies the corporate interests behind creating, funding and arming the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and other rebel groups that have taken up arms against the Assad government. We already know their primary agenda in the Middle East – to isolate Iran, China and Russia with the goal of consolidating US dominance over dwindling oil resources.
In Cartalucci’s words: “[T]he West has become an expert at creating false paradigms, creating debates and conflicts that obfuscate the true nature of any given problem – obfuscating that they themselves are generally at he root of it.”
He makes his point by citing the example of the CIA-funded National Endowment for Democracy (one of several CIA-funded “non-profit” foundations), one which Ahmed Bensaada and others have identified as playing a pivotal role in training the activists who helped launch the “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
Cartalucci illustrates the role corporations play in the NED with a collage of the corporate logos represented on the NED board of directors:
His article includes a link to a fascinating timeline he created in an earlier blog Save Syria, which starts with a 1991 pronouncement by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz about the need to “clean up” old Soviet client regimes (Syria, Iran and Iraq). It outlines plans for Syrian regime change dating back to 2002, as well as the training program the State Department began in 2008 to train 5,000 activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
Cartlucci asserts that by identifying the true root of the Syrian conflict – namely multinational corporations – we can avoid falling for the phony solutions western governments offer us. He believes the only solution, ultimately, lies in disempowering corporations and replacing them with revitalized local institutions.
Read more here: Land Destroyer Report
by stuartbramhall in The Wars in the Middle East, Things That Aren't What They Seem
by Ahmed Bensaada
(Michel Brule May 2011)
In tracking down sources for an upcoming presentation on the antiglobalization movement, I have come across a little gem called Arabesque Americaine by French Canadian author Ahmed Bensaada. The full title is Arabesque Americaine: Le role des Etats-Unis dans les revoltes de la rue arabe — translated American Arabesque: the Role of the US in the Revolts in the Arab Streets.
I have been increasingly skeptical of the authenticity of the “Arab Spring” revolutions — especially in Egypt (where the outcome is a military junta) and Libya (which, like Iraq , has been bombed back to the Middle Ages). Last February, a few blogs mentioned a 2009 meeting between Hillary Clinton and one of Egypt ‘s (presumably) US funded pro-democracy groups. Then the English alternative media and blogosphere went all quiet on the issue.
Arabesque Americaine leaves absolutely no doubt that the “Arab Spring” — like the earlier “color revolutions” in eastern Europe — were almost certainly destabilization/regime change operations, funded and orchestrated by the CIA, State Department, historic CIA-funded foundations — and last, but not least, Google.
Bensaada’s 120-page book provides a carefully researched and referenced account of each of the foundations that are “exporting democracy” to MENA (the Middle East and North Africa ), along with an exact accounting of the millions of dollars given to each country in 2009 and the specific groups the funds went to.
My favorite chapter was the one describing the role these foundations, the State Department, and Google have played in training young MENA activists in the use of social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter). I was particularly interested in the free access and training they provide international youth activists on TOR, a special software designed to evade government surveillance (which, under the Patriot Act, is illegal in the US ).
Bensaada, who was born and received his early education in Algeria, devotes special attention to the Egypt revolution, emphasizing the role Google played via their star employee Wael Ghonem.
The following is a brief outline of the topics covered:
Chapter 1 — concerns the secret American funding and orchestration of the so-called “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe , with particular focus on Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kirghizistan(2005). In each case, pro-Soviet governments were overthrown by mobilizing disaffected, pro-Western young people — financed by the CIA, State Department, and Pentagon linked “democracy manipulating” foundations. The latter include National Endowment for Democracy (NED), National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), Freedom House (FH), the Albert Einstein Institute, the Center for Non Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — and George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI).
Chapter 2 — contains a detailed discussion of the above think tanks and foundations, which includes a description of the their government funding, as well as the subversive activities (espionage, election rigging, an popular destablization activities) they promote in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Iran that oppose America’s pro-corporate agenda.
Chapter 3 — discusses the promotion, by the State Department and these think tanks and foundations, of new technologies in these destabilization campaigns. I was fascinated by Bensaada’s description of Guide Star’s TOR Project, which permits anonymous navigation of the Internet. According to their own website, TOR is funded by Google, the US Naval Research Lab, and Human Rights Watch (HRW). In 2004 Paul Treanor documented that HRW is a joint project of Soros’ Open Society Institute and the State Department (http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/HRW.htm). US Wikileaks spokesperson Jacob Appelbaum, the main TOR spokesperson, travels all over the world training activists in the use of TOR (Wikileaks uses TOR on their servers).
Chapter 3 also discusses the role of Movements.org and the Alliance of Youth Movements in promoting the use of social media to international youth activists (once again, Bensaada points out that promoting protests via social media is illegal in the US — he cites the example of an activist arrested at the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh). Movements.org is run by Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas and a former adviser to both Condolizza Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jason Libman, another Google employee formerly employed by both the State Department and the Pentagon. AYM executive director David Nassar was formerly employed by NDI, USAID and IRI. The list of luminaries who participated in a 2008 Summit focused on teaching international activists how to use Facebook and Twitter is also extremely enlightening: Sherif Mansour from Freedom House, James Glassman from the State Department, Larry Diamond from NED, and national security advisor Shaarik Zafar.
Chapter 4 — focuses on the specific case of Egypt, with particular attention to the role played by Google employee Gael Ghonem, who was given paid leave from his job (Google’s chief of marketing for MENA) to participated in the Tahrir Square uprising. Ghonem was responsible for creating the Facebook page “We are all Mohamed Bouazizi” after the Tunisian fruit seller trigger the Tunisian revolution by setting himself on fire. Ghonem also created the “We are all Tal Al-Mallou” to pressure Syria to release the Syrian blogger after she was arrested for espionage activities in the Syrian Embassy in Cairo . Back in 2009, he also set up a Facebook page for Egyptian exile Mohammed El-Baradei, in advance of his February 2010 visit to Cairo to explore a bid for the Egyptian presidency. The visit, according to Wikileaks cables, was organized through the US embassy. Please note this was a full year before the Tahrir Square protests.
In this chapter, Bensaada also focuses on two lead organizers in the April 6th movement (Bassam Samir and Adel Mohamed) with strong links to Washington and the “color revolutions.”
Chapter 5 — focuses on the pro-democracy organizations in other Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebannon, Lybia, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria) financed by the State Department and the “democracy manipulating” foundations. In his appendix, Bensaada identifies the specific pro-democracy groups by name and the exact amount of US funding each received in 2009.
Chapter 6 — a summation and analysis, which explores the ethical dilemma faced by many Egyptian activists on learning the non-violent materials they were using to organize demonstrations were the creation of CIA and State Department Funded think tanks and Foundations.
Arabesque Americaine is available in print for $16.95 from Amazon Canada (with links to discount distributors selling it for $11.08). It’s also available in Epub from two sites. According to one ebook distributor, Archambault, the Epub version is only available in Canada to “protect the rights” of the author. A second site, Livresquebecois.com allowed me to pay for and download the Epub version. However the file they provided is corrupted and had to be converted to PDF (via free downloadable software) in order to read it.
Bensaada’s writing is unusually clear and concise. Thus I highly recommend the book, even where readers have only limited knowledge of French. More than half the reference links are to English sites. That alone, in my opinion, is more than worth $11.08 for a print copy .
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
This is the second of two posts on the role of food prices in triggering civil unrest.
One erroneous conclusion some American activists draw from Keiser’s and Zoellick’s “food theory” of revolution (see previous post) is that organizing is unnecessary – that all we have to do is wait until the food bill reaches 35-40% of workers’ income and leaves them no money for rent, clothes, medical care and other necessities. The first problem with this “no nothing” perspective is that it overlooks the years of sustained organizing by Egyptian unions and social justice groups that laid the groundwork for organized rebellion in February 2011 (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/23/egypts-invisible-labor-movement/).
The second problem with opting for inaction is that we greatly increase the probability the capitalistic political-economic system will collapse into utter chaos. If we simply wait for global capitalism to self-destruct, we will most likely end up with a violent, fragmented failed state – like Afghanistan, Somalia or post-Soviet Russia – controlled by criminal gangs and sociopathic warlords.
The Destruction of Civil Society
I see many alarming parallels between the US and the USSR of the 1980s. The most prominent is the virtual collapse of civil society. In Russia, this resulted in more than a decade of starvation, illness and early death because there was no community infrastructure in place when the Soviet infrastructure collapsed. For decades, the KGB systematically infiltrated and smashed all community groups, irrespective of their size or purpose, because the Communist Party elite saw them as a threat to state power. The reasons for the disintegration of American civil society are more complex. They include low wages, long work hours and a highly sophisticated public relations industry that continuously bombards Americans with individualistic anti-community and anti-organizing messages (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/01/thinking-like-egyptians/).
Addressing Psychological Oppression
The lesson I derive from the food theory of revolution is not that progressives shouldn’t organize – but that they need to focus less on political oppression (low wages, attacks on unions and civil liberties, cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Wall Street criminality, etc) and more on psychological oppression. Wilhelm Reich makes the same argument in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. It’s pointless trying to organize the working class around political and economic injustice without addressing the psychological rigidity that imprisons all of us as products of a profoundly authoritarian social and family structure.
To a large extent, this involves counteracting the steady diet of psychological messages from the mainstream media that shape Americans’ identity and values, as well as pressuring them to consume (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/03/overcoming-pro-corporate-messaging/).
Overcoming Psychological Oppression
In my experience, the first step in overcoming this pro-corporate messaging is making a conscious decision to increase our level of civic engagement – even in activities, such as the Girl Scouts, that aren’t overtly political. In getting to know our neighbors and joining community groups, we model (the most powerful teaching tool) and inspire family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers to do the same. The idea is to disrupt Americans’ individualized relationship with their TVs, Computers, Ipods and Androids and get them to interact with each other instead.
The moment they do, they begin to express doubts about the fairness and legitimacy of government authority. These thoughts are surprisingly close to the surface but only become conscious once people have the opportunity to express them.
This, for me explains the phenomenal early success of the Tea Party movement. People immediately identified with the message that the two party system failed to address their needs. They flocked in droves to Tea Party events so long as they believed it was a genuine movement – and quickly abandoned it on realizing the Republican leadership and corporate media were subverting it into a partisan movement.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, End of Capitalism, Global south
Former Wall Street analyst (and fellow expatriate) Max Keiser predicts that American workers are unlikely to manifest the same revolutionary fervor as their comrades in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain until they experience comparable difficulties paying for food. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-B2V2l_6QE (link kindly provided by a reader). Egyptians pay 40% of their income for food, Americans only 12%. Nevertheless with the impending double dip recession, continuing wage and benefit cuts, and financial markets massively speculating in food derivatives (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/07/03/speculating-with-our-food/), Keiser believes, as I do, that this day isn’t far off.
As a doctor and health food advocate, I was already well aware that the federal government massively subsidizes cheap fast food and junk food (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/12/13/ending-the-obesity-epidemic/). America’s agricultural subsidies kill literally millions of Americans every year, by creating an epidemic of obesity and related medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Yet until Keiser raised the issue, I never recognized the importance of these subsidies in suppressing popular unrest. It seems the main purpose of US agricultural subsidies isn’t to help farmers or even the massive food conglomerates that run factory farms. They are intended is to control the single most important factor driving third world resistance movements – namely the cost of food.
I was also interested in Keiser’s view that no subsidy program has the ability to control rising food costs, so long Obama refuses to regulate the investment banks that are driving up food prices by speculating in the food commodities market.
A World Bank Perspective
World Bank President Robert Zoellick describes the link between the cost of food and regime change in an oped he wrote for the Financial Times in February 2011 (only paid subscribers can read the FT article, but it’s summarized at http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/02/20110216153135elrem0.863125.html#axzz1TFa72yUl). The oped points to the widespread food riots that occurred in 2008 due to a sudden spike in food prices – as well as triggering regime change in Haiti. Yet according to Zoellick, the 2011 food crisis is even worse – with rising food costs forcing 44 million people into poverty between June 2010 and January 2011.
The February 27 Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/the-price-of-food-is-at-the-heart-of-this-wave-of-revolutions-2226896.html and March 2 Energy Bulletin http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-02/energy-food-revolution-inextricable-link offer a somewhat less ideological analysis than the World Bank president. The Energy Bulletin links the collapse of the Soviet Union to skyrocketing food prices. They point to a sudden decline in oil prices (with oil exports being the Soviet’s primary source of foreign revenue) in the late 1980s that left the Soviets unable to buy adequate wheat on world markets.
Most commentators seem to agree that the magic number is 40% – that civil unrest becomes inevitable once food prices consume more than 40% of workers’ incomes.
I think the number that ultimately triggers food riots in the US might be lower. During the Great Depression, Americans were forced to spend 35% of their income on food (http://www.enotes.com/1930-lifestyles-social-trends-american-decades/making-do-family-life-depression). Although we don’t read about them in mainstream history books, there were extremely bloody battles in Washington over Hoover’s refusal to pay the bonus that had been promised World War I veterans. Barbara Kingsolver writes about some of them in her 2009 historical novel The Lacuna.
Otherwise I totally agree with Keiser’s and Zoellick’s food theory of revolution, especially in countries like the US where psychological oppression is a bigger problem than political oppression. Psychological oppression is less much less prevalent in countries like Greece, France and Spain (and apparently Britain), where strong working class consciousness enables workers to instantly identify when the government and corporate elite are screwing them. In these countries, workers are far more willing to take to the streets over less life threatening issues – for example, high youth unemployment, pension cuts, an increase in the retirement age, unpopular wars and evidence of corruption in the criminal justice system.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism
(Generation Z consists of young people born after 1990)
Much has been made of the role of youth in sparking the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. The historical significance of the mass insurrections in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Syria is yet to be determined – given their failure to bring about genuine political reform. Even Egypt, which received the most media attention, remains under the firm control of the Egyptian military, which has banned strikes and continues to shoot, arrest and torture protestors.
Nevertheless, the willingness of Arab citizens to engage in public protest against some of the most oppressive regimes in the world is a new and significant phenomenon. It highlights the distinction between political and psychological oppression. Psychological repression is a state of wholesale resignation. A population makes no attempt to resist, owing to their belief they will be utterly crushed. Although the Arab populations in the Middle East and North Africa remain politically oppressed, they have made giant strides in overcoming their psychological oppression.
The Role of Youth in Sparking Revolutions
Youth are nearly always the engine behind any movement to throw off psychological oppression. Marxist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich relates this to the absence of “biological rigidity” that sets in as people age. Older people have an overwhelming drive for “business as usual,” which Austrian-born child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim credits for the failure of European Jews to resist the Nazi campaign to enslave and exterminate them (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/04/27/pacifism-as-pathology-book-review/). Based on my own clinical experience, I would pin it more on the illusion of immortality in children and adolescents – their inability to grasp the finality of death. It’s an inability to fully comprehend this concept that leads to adolescents’ reckless disregard for personal safety in their driving, gang banging and other risk taking activities.
The population demographics of the Arab world have special significance in this respect. At present, North Africa and Egypt currently have the highest proportion of young people in the world. Sixty-one percent of the Egyptian population is under 25 (in the US 35% are under 25). This relates mainly to Egypt’s low life expectancy (70.3 years, in contrast to 78.7 years in the US) and low numbers in the upper age brackets. Moreover the high rate of unemployment among Egyptians under 25 (25% overall and 30% among collage grads) is credited for an extremely high level of anger and frustration among Egyptian young people.
Lessons from History: Soweto and the Intifada
I have always been fascinated by two other major political movements initiated by teenagers – the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa and the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987. Both were influenced by a circumstances I consider even more important than either demographics or high youth unemployment. The factor characterizing both the Soweto uprising and the first Intifada is the widespread breakdown of parental authority, which is quite common during periods of social upheaval. This, in turn, leads to precocious development of personal autonomy in teenagers. The link between this breakdown of parental authority and youth rebellion is a major theme of my young adult novel The Battle for Tomorrow: a Fable .
I believe both the Soweto uprising and the first Intifada have important implications for political change in the US, given present trends in American families. Over the past two decades, declining earning power has forced most parents (men and women) to work extremely long hours, leaving them have little time or energy for their kids. In many families teenagers are essentially raising themselves – which has very important implications for generation Z activism.
To be continued, with a look at the Soweto uprising and the first Intifada.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
Like the F-word, the U-word is largely taboo in polite society, especially among younger Americans. According to a recent survey 41% of Americans “disapprove” of unions (see http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2010/09/why-has-union-membership-declined.html). Generation X,Y and Z Americans are more likely to view unions as irrelevant, rather than negative. I find all this incredibly sad, as American workers owe the forty hour week (it used to be 70+ hours), workplace safety laws and the end of child labor to the union movement.
I myself come from a proud union family. My mother walked the picket line as a member of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. My father, a radio announcer, belonged to the American Federation of Television and Radio artists. AFTRA saved his career after his boss fired him for taking a sick day when a nut allergy caused him to suffer anaphylactic reaction. October 21, 2002 was a very proud day for me when I (at 54) joined my first union: the New Zealand Association of Salaried Medical Specialists. In the US, most salaried doctors are viewed as independent contractors and are prohibited under the Taft Hartley Act from unionizing. My proudest day was in 2006 when I voted to undertake industrial action (stop work meetings and, if need be, strike action), in response to management efforts to remove patient safety provisions from our contact.
America’s Toothless Trade Union Movement
Yet I can’t say I blame younger Americans for their dismissive attitude towards unions. Thanks to the repressive Taft Hartley Act the US passed in 1947, American unions essentially function as government unions, owing to stringent federal restrictions on their activities. This only struck home as I read about the essential role illegal Egyptian unions played in Egypt’s February revolution (see “Egypt’s Invisible Labor Movement” at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/23/egypts-invisible-labor-movement/).
In Egypt, all workers are required to join the government-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation, and independent trade unions are banned. Members of the Trade Union Federation are required to get government permission (which is rarely granted) to strike. However since 1998, nearly two million Egyptian workers have formed independent unions and have engaged in more than 3,000 strikes. Moreover it was the threat of a general strike (and the closure of the Suez Canal) that ultimately forced Mubarak to resign.
Should the US Repeal the Taft Hartley Act?
Hell, yes. Obviously there is no official government union in the US. Nevertheless, for all practical purposes, the Taft Hartley Act forces the American trade union movement to function as a de facto government union by repealing many of the labor rights guaranteed under the 1935 Wagner Act (for example it makes mass picketing, slowdowns and sit down and wildcat strikes illegal).
Progressive pundits scratch their heads wondering why American workers aren’t in the streets like their European counterparts – as Congress and many states roll back wages, pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and every other gain they have won over the past 70 years. The 1947 Taft Hartley Act was passed by a Republican Congress over President Truman’s veto. Yet the increasingly pro-corporate Democrats, despite unwavering support from organized labor, have never attempted to repeal it – despite numerous opportunities when they controlled both Congress and the presidency (such as 2009-2010 under Obama).
Repealing Taft Hartley was part of Ralph Nader’s platform in the 2000, 2004 and 2008, which might explain why the so-called “alternative” media attacked him so viciously. In fact the only people talking about repealing Taft Hartley are Nader, a few socialist groups, and Dr Elaine Bernard, the Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. Certainly no one in the trade union bureaucracy talks about it. Nevertheless so long as Taft Hartley remains in force, the “official” trade union movement is virtually paralyzed in fighting the all-out attack in many states against the right to unionize.
Click here to see an interview with Dr Bernard explaining the major role Taft Hartley Act and other anti-union laws have played in the decline of America’s union movement:
To be continued, with a discussion of the specific Taft Hartley provisions that suppress labor rights.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
While the massive protests in state capitals last week are a great start, Americans still have a long way to go to achieve an Egyptian-style revolution that will restore working democracy in the US. To begin with, American workers need to be better organized. There’s no question that Mubarak’s departure was hastened by the threat of a general strike by Egypt’s independent trade union association. The US media neglected to mention the general strike, as well as the years of sustained organizing by Egyptian workers that made the mass mobilization in Cairo and other cities possible. While the contagious effect of mass movements overseas will greatly speed up the process, real change in the US will require major commitment to organizing and movement building.
Personally, I don’t believe it makes a bit of difference which organization people join. Millions of Americans are already active in a broad range of antiwar, social justice and environmental groups fighting battles that are just as critical as the issue of jobs and union rights. However I also think that it makes sense for low income and unemployed Americans to either join a union or the Union of the Unemployed, as jobs, decent wages, and looking after their families is obviously their highest priority.
The Unemployed Union
Ur Union of the Unemployed, nicknamed UCubed, is a community service project started last January by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers. Its goal is to unite the unemployed and underemployed with union workers, building a coalition similar to the one the pressured Roosevelt to enact far-reaching New Deal legislation in the 1930s.
Membership is free, with UCube organizing members by zip codes. The idea is for each new member form a “cube” in their local area, thus multiplying their political and economic power by 6, by 36 and eventually by 29 million. Members receive action alerts on federal and state legislation affecting workers, as well as general tips on surviving as an unemployed person. UCubed members also receive generous discounts at the Machinists Mall, a kind of on-line shopping center: http://shop.machinists.mallnetworks.com/
Who Can Join Ucubed?
The website mentions no restrictions whatsoever on membership. It specifically mentions “underemployed” workers, which seems to cover a lot of territory. In addition people working 1-3 part time jobs because they can’t find full time employment, this would also cover struggling students, people forced into early retirement or unable to get off welfare or disability because no one will hire them, as well as self-employed contractors and business people whose earnings are inadequate to provide for their basic needs. I would also encourage working people unable to form a union in their work place (either for logistical reasons or because it’s forbidden under the Taft Hartley Act) to join.
Obviously for people in full time jobs, joining and becoming active in your own local union will be much more helpful in addressing problems in your own workplace. The National Labor Relations Act guarantees every American worker the legal right to form a union, even domestics, office cleaners and temporary clerical workers who work in separate homes and offices. The AFL-CIO operates a web page http://www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/how/howto.cfm with instructions how to go about forming a union.
As you well see from the AFL-CIO website, creating new unions has become extremely complicated and cumbersome owing to Taft Hartley restrictions forbid supervisors and independent contractors from joining unions and allow employers the right to intimidate and harass employees who are trying to unionize. Thus I would recommend that full timers also join UCubed until they have their own union to represent them.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, Mind Control and Disinformation
It’s extremely heartening to see Americans’ fascination with the popular uprisings in the Middle East, as well as speculation across the blogosphere about the potential to replicate them in the US. Massive turnout in Madison and other state capitals is very promising, as American workers realize that they are being punished for the Wall Street greed and criminality that caused the 2008 economic collapse. Many are beginning to believe, as I do, that Wall Street and their friends in government are deliberately using the “economic crisis” to justify a massive attack on the working class.
It seems a logical conclusion, given the soaring profits and stock prices of Wall Street banks and corporations, especially as they are the result of major cost cutting in the form of mass lay-offs and wage cuts. American workers would have to be pretty gullible not to question why they are being told to tighten their belts, while the banksters responsible for the collapse are rewarded with a $12.5 trillion secret bailout (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/13/bernie-sanders-filibuster-and-the-secret-12-5-trillion-bailout/), billions of dollars of CEO bonuses and tax cuts. In addition to facing the likelihood that some of us (including many young people under 24) are now permanently unemployed and/or homeless, the rest of us face another round of lay-offs and home foreclosures, wage freezes/cuts, longer work hours, increased workloads, Social Security and Medicare cuts, a likely increase in the retirement age to 70 – and even more cuts in critical public services, including school, library and clinic closures; police and teacher lay-offs; and cutbacks in street lighting and road and bridge repairs.
The Way Forward
As we have seen in Europe, the Middle East and Europe, the only effective way to challenge these relentless attacks against working people is by banding together to fight them through industrial action and mass mobilization. As individuals waiting for politicians to do the right thing, we are relatively powerless. However, as we have seen in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, when we join together in unions and grassroots organizations, we have the ability to bring society to a standstill.
Over the past three decades, such collective action has been rare in the US. Americans from all walks of life seem much more reluctant than their foreign counterparts to join any community groups or organizations, much less unions or political causes. This, I believe, relates mainly to constant bombardment (mainly via the media) with highly sophisticated political messaging prompting Americans to see themselves as “consumers” rather than engaged citizens in a participatory democracy. Wall Street has created an entire industry – the public relations industry – around creating such messages. Ironically, as the late Alex Carey describes in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/25/006.html), the original purpose of “pubic relations” was to discredit union organizing and strikes and simultaneously undermine strong pro-worker sentiment among the American public.
Below are five of the most paralyzing anti-organizing messages Americans are bombarded with on a daily basis:
- Being labeled or associated with “workers,” “working class,” or “unions” equates with low social status. In the US, everyone with a full time job is automatically “middle class.” Because class differences have been abolished in the US, there is no need to join or form unions or to protest and/or strike.
- The US and Americans are distinctly different (better) than the rest of the world. Living standards are (and will always be) much better for American workers than for their foreign counterparts.
- The proper role of workers under fifty is supporting and/or looking after their families. If they strike or protest, their children will suffer.
- There is no alternative – corporations, corporate controlled government and the corporate controlled media are all too powerful for ordinary people to bring about change. Organizing is pointless because we are helpless to change anything.
- Politics and economics are too complicated for ordinary people to understand. We can only make things better by going shopping and taking care of our families while we wait for honest, wise political leaders to get us out of this mess.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
The mainstream media continues to tell us their fairy tale version of the Egyptian revolution: the Egyptian people won a Facebook revolution that lasted just eighteen days. As a result of massive street protests, the military junta ousted Mubarak, suspended the old constitution, and dissolved parliament and is negotiating with the “opposition” to write a new constitution leading to “democratic” elections in six months time. According to the US press, this consists of opposition leaders like expatriate Mohamed Elbaradei, members of the youth movement, and “bloggers,” like Google executive Wael Ghonim. The foreign press, on the other hand, tends to be more accurate in reporting that the true balance of power rests with the Egyptian independent trade union movement, consisting of more than thirty independent unions (including those representing workers in Egypt’s two most important sources of foreign currency: the Suez Canal and the tourism industry). The omission of this powerful movement from US mainstream coverage is quite significant, given that a general strike (which was clearly imminent in the days prior to Mubarak’s resignation) has the potential to shut down the entire Egyptian economy and is much more difficult to derail than street protests (you can’t really force people to work by shooting them).
The Refusal of the US Media to Cover Labor Issues
On reflection, I guess the media distortions around the Egyptian revolution are no surprise, given the typically poor coverage strikes and union issues receive in the US media. Presumably the omission of the role played by strikes and labor unrest in the massive street protests in Europe, as well as Egypt and China, is part and parcel of a sophisticated, decades-old public relations strategy (promoted by Wall Street, the corporate media and various left gatekeeping foundations receiving funding from US intelligence). See “A Short History of Left Gatekeeping Foundations” http://blogs.alternet.org/refugee/2010/07/21/a-short-history-of-left-gatekeeper-foundations/
The Taboo Against “Workers” and “Working Class”
As the late Alex Carey describes in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/25/006.html), the original purpose of “pubic relations” – a psychologically sophisticated form of propaganda pioneered by Edward Bernays (the “father” of public relations) - was to discredit working class culture, union organizing and strikes and simultaneously undermine strong pro-worker sentiment among the American public.
As Professor Joel Beinin reminds us in his analysis of the Egyptian labor movement (http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/beininegypt), the terms “worker” and “working class” aren’t taboo in Egypt as they are in the US, where even pink collar office workers earning minimum wage consider themselves “middle class.” In the US, there has been a concerted effort to promote the myth (not only in the news, but in movies, TV programming and popular magazines) that class differences have been abolished. By tricking working class Americans (80% of us) into believing we are really “middle class,” the power elite also manipulates us into identifying with our employers, rather than fellow workers.
Wall Street and Obama are Running Scared
With the recent massive pro-union protests in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, clearly US workers are waking up to the reality that their corporate employers – who are subjecting them to mass lay-offs, wages freezes and benefit cuts, as well as expropriating their pension funds, while simultaneously paying their corporate bosses millions and billions of dollars in CEO bonuses – are essentially ripping them off. Despite unprecedented corporate profits and rising stock prices, conditions continue to get worse for workers – as they struggle to deal with skyrocketing food and energy costs, in the face of yet more lay-offs, wage freezes and benefit cuts and foreclosures.
Yet instead of trying to address the genuine pain of the American working class, Wall Street, the Obama administration and the mainstream media collude to conceal the vital role unions and strike action are playing in producing genuine political and economic reform in other countries. Apparently the risk is too high that US workers will try to copy their Egyptian brothers, by banding together with fellow workers to exercise real power in the face of relentless corporate attacks.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, Things That Aren't What They Seem
I get a very different picture of the Egyptian “revolution” from Al Jazeera and other international new sources than from the US media. The latter seems to focus exclusively on the massive street protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, ignoring the critical role of major strike actions across Egypt in the days before Mubarak’s resignation.
The US media also portrays the Egyptian revolution as a Facebook revolution, made possible by the miracle of the Internet, which overlooks four important facts:
- Forty percent of Egyptians are illiterate (http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/beininegypt), and only the sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite have access to the Internet.
- The April 6th Youth Movement, the driving force behind the January 25th Day of Anger, was born out of Egypt’s labor movement and named after the momentous April 6, 2008 Mahalla Strike.
- Many foreign analysts believe that strike action by 200,000 workers across Egypt on February 8, 2011 was the final factor leading the military to pressure Mubarak to step down (owing to fears of an imminent general strike, and the resulting damage to Egypt’s economy).
- Although middle class doctors, lawyers and managers eventually joined the protest in Tahrir Square, they were also the first to try to persuade the other demonstrators to go home and wait for elections.
The Role of World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment
Also omitted from mainstream media coverage is the root cause of the massive labor unrest that accompanied the street protests, namely the role of draconian “structural adjustments” the World Bank and IMF imposed on Egypt in 1991. Twenty years of these neoliberal reforms (think Reaganomics on steroids) have created a society in which 44% of the population lives below the poverty line of $2 per day per person (http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/beininegypt). The average Egyptian worker makes $70 a month. With two parents working, the average Egyptian family of five struggles to get by on less than $1 per day per person. In Cairo, it’s not unusual for homeless families to take up residence in the cemetery (see http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/20112148356117884.html).
Three Thousand Strikes Since 1998
Although the only legal union in Egypt is the government-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation, approximately two million workers have engaged in over 3,000 illegal strikes (only two strikes were authorized by the government-run union) since 1998. These strikes are typically greeted with brutal government repression, consisting of extrajudicial assassination, beatings by paramilitary thugs and arrest and torture. The brutal repression, in turn, has led striking workers to make political demands (such as Mubarak’s resignation, democratic elections, legalization of non-government unions and an end to violent repression), in addition to demanding better pay and working conditions.
The strength of Egypt’s labor movement, which has grown by leaps and bounds since winning a few wage concessions in 2006, means that the Egyptian revolution is by no means over. Even though traffic has resumed flowing through Tahrir Square and despite the imposition of martial law (and a ban on strikes) by the military junta, widespread labor unrest continues. According to Al Jazeera English (http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/2011216141815340645.html), workers in banking, transport, oil tourism, textiles and state owned media were all on strike last week to demand higher wages and working conditions.
Even more significant is the February 19th declaration by Egyptian independent trade unionists (representing over 30 unions):
Demands of the workers in the revolution
O heroes of the 25 January revolution! We, workers and trade unionists from different workplaces which have seen strikes, occupations and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of workers across Egypt during the current period, feel it is right to unite the demands of striking workers that they may become an integral part of the goals of our revolution, which the people of Egypt made, and for which the martyrs shed their blood. We present to you a workers’ program which brings together our just demands, in order to reaffirm the social aspect of this revolution and to prevent the revolution being taken away from at its base who should be its beneficiaries.”
To be continued