Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Pope surprises—May Day in retrospect

When I was involved in anti-Vietnam War protests in the last years of the 1960s, the contingent from the Newman Center always showed up ready to work.  The energy Catholic social progressives derived from Vatican II was amazing.  They had been on the sidelines for centuries and were now the center of the church's culture.

It was too good to last.  The Catholic Church has been resisting change since forever.  The Protestant Reformation happened because the mother church could not incorporate a few minor suggestions made by Luther.  They could not accept Galileo even though he could literally show them the moons of Jupiter through his telescope.  So by the early 1970s, the pushback against the innovative thinking of Vatican II was in full swing.  Here in Minnesota, those forces of reaction would mean a serious weakening of the DFL as Catholics were led out of the party over abortion.  Their attack on public education over the issue of vouchers was not as successful as in other states but it was enough to make the state's teachers pretty damn defensive.  And their positions on human sexuality were so reactionary as to be borderline insane—preaching that contraception is evil in a world being overrun by us humans or that condoms are a bad idea in the face of the AIDS epidemic actually WERE insane.

But even though the Catholics have been hopelessly reactionary for 5/6 of my life, I still hold out some hope for those moments of enlightenment that I saw as a university underclassman.  And while I was all set to be disappointed by this latest Pope, he made an especially enlightened pronouncement for World Labor Day.  Here we have a report from DW on this speech followed by the Vatican's account.

Pope condemns unemployment on Labor Day

ipj/dr (epd, AFP, dpa, Reuters) 01 MAY 13

Workers angered by low wages, spending cuts and job culls have marked May Day worldwide. Pope Francis has decried unemployment as "socially unjust." A walkout has crippled Greece. Indonesian workers slammed fuel prices.

The new Argentine head of the Roman Catholic Church underscored May 1 international day of labor rallies in many countries on Wednesday by urging global leaders to "re-launch" the employment sector.

Unemployment and "labor market difficulties in various countries" were caused by economic thinking "based on selfish profit outside the bounds of social justice," Pope Francis told thousands of followers in St Peters Square in Rome.

Work, said Francis, was "fundamental for dignity."

Pope decries 'slave labor'

Vatican radio later quoted the pontiff as saying during a private mass that the victims of Bangladesh's recent workplace disasters had worked under "slave labor" conditions.

"Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!" the radio quoted him as saying.

His remarks followed calls in Manila by thousands of laborers for better working conditions and a higher Philippine' minimum wage. "Junk privatization," protestors cried, referring to recent trends to privatize and out-source public services.


Societal foundations 'destroyed'

At the German DGB Trade Union Federation's main union rally in Munich, DGB head Michael Sommer (pictured above among leading marchers) demanded higher tax rates for Germany's wealthy.

The Basic Law [Germany's constitution] stipulated that ownership required obligations, Sommer said. "That is no longer taken seriously by the rich and powerful."

"It cannot be that our society is sustained almost alone by taxpayers and consumers while the rich and beautiful live leisurely."

Policies of deregulation of the past 30 years had not only "destroyed good work" but had also destroyed that "foundations of socially responsibly economic practices," he said, resulting in job temping, poverty-level wages, and precarious job contracts.

The DGB staged a series of rallies across Germany, including one in Berlin.

In France, thousands of Labor Day demonstrators condemned the government's austerity measures and demanded that President Francois Hollande change course.

The number of people in France registered as job seekers climbed to a record high of 3.2 million in March. Erstwhile supporters of Hollande have accused him of reneging on his election campaign promise to champion growth over austerity. more

Pope: Dignity for the Dhaka workers, dignity for the jobless

2013-05-01 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) A society that “does not pay a just wage”, that “does not give work” to people; a society that “that only looks to its balance books, that only seeks profit” is unjust and goes against God. It is work - not power, not money, not culture – that gives men and women a sense of dignity. By stripping them of work, society strips them of their God given dignity. Emer McCarthy reports: This was the focus of Pope Francis reflections at Mass Wednesday May 1st. The Holy Father marked the feast of St Joseph the Worker together with children and single mothers who are guests at the “Il Ponte” center for solidarity based in the port town of Civitavecchia north of Rome. Mass was concelebrated by the man who founded and runs the center for these families in need, Fr. Egidio Smacchia.

Pope Francis commented on the Gospel chosen for the feast day, from Mathew chapter 13, which recounts Jesus’ return to his hometown Nazareth where he is called “the carpenter’s son”. Joseph was a worker and Jesus learned to work with him. In the first reading we read that God works to create the world. This "icon of God worker - said the Pope – tells us that work is something more than just earning our daily bread":

"Work gives us dignity! Those who work have dignity, a special dignity, a personal dignity: men and women who work are dignified. Instead, those who do not work do not have this dignity. But there are many who want to work and cannot. This is a burden on our conscience, because when society is organized in such a way that not everyone has the opportunity to work, to be anointed with the dignity of work, then there is something wrong with that society: it is not right! It goes against God himself, who wanted our dignity, starting from here. "

Pope Francis continued, that dignity is not found in power, money, or culture. But in work, in honest work, because today many social, political and economic systems have made the choice to exploit the person in the workplace.

"Not paying a just [wage], not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit. That goes against God! How many times – how many times – have we read in 'L'Osservatore Romano' .... A headline that impressed me so much the day of the Bangladesh tragedy, 'Living on 38 euros a month': this was the payment of these people who have died ... And this is called 'slave labor!'. And today in this world there is slavery that is made with the most beautiful gift that God has given to man: the ability to create, to work, to be the makers of our own dignity. How many brothers and sisters throughout the world are in this situation because of these, economic, social, political attitudes and so on ... ".

The Pope then quoted the reflections of a rabbi from the Middle Ages on the episode of the Tower of Babel, of how precious bricks were at that time:

"When a brick accidently fell, it was a tremendous problem, a scandal: 'But look what you've done!'. But if one of those people building the tower fell: 'Requiescat in pace!' And they let him be ... the person was more important than the brick. This is what the medieval rabbi told and this is what happens now! People are less important than the things that give profit to those who have political, social, economic power. What point have we come to? To the point that we are not aware of this dignity of the person; this dignity of labor. But today the figure of St. Joseph, of Jesus, of God who work - this is our model - they teach us the way forward, towards dignity. "

Today - the Pope said - we can no longer say what St. Paul said: "He who will not work, will not eat," but we have to say: "He who does not work, has lost his dignity", because "he cannot find any opportunities for work". On the contrary: "Society has stripped that person of dignity."

Pope Francis concluded: Today, it would do us good to listen to the voice of God, when he spoke to Cain, saying: "Cain, where is your brother?". Today, however, we hear this voice: "Where is your brother who has no work? Where is your brother who is subjected to slave labor?. Let us pray, let us pray for all these brothers and sisters who are in this situation. So be it". more
And while it is certainly heartening that the Catholics may be pursuing a slightly less reactionary course, Chris Floyd reminds us just how the depressing the future is for the economic have-nots and how hopeless the current political parties are for addressing the economic catastrophes facing the vast majority of us.

Pay in Blood: May Day and Modern Politics

by Chris Floyd | May 2, 2013

Here's a really weird "alternative history" thought experiment on this day set aside to celebrate workers around the world. Try to imagine a President of the United States standing up before Congress and saying something like this: (from Lincoln's 1861 SOTU speech)
"There is one point … to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. … Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
Isn't that wild? Of course, it's the kind of thing only some ignorant goober from the sticks -- or maybe even from some other century -- would come out with. Today, fortunately, we know that people who work for wages are just moochers and takers: parasites feeding on the noble blood of their bosses and betters. Being advanced, savvy and modern, we now know that Labor deserves no 'consideration' at all (much less a higher one!): no safe work places, no job security, no secured pensions, no bargaining rights, no privacy, no decency, no dignity. Labor should be glad and grateful to give whatever it takes (and take whatever they give) to serve the interests of our precious elites -- our crusading corporate chieftains, our visionary venture capitalists, our wise shepherds of inherited wealth -- who graciously provide their beasts of burden with store of provender.

Unless, of course, the provender provisioning threatens to cut into the nobles' bloated profit margins too much. In that case, of course, the higher considerations of capital must take precedence, and the jobs have to go. And when that happens, Labor should humbly bow its head, without complaint, without whining, and quietly, meekly, accept its fate, in accordance with the ruling principle that governs our glorious modern world.

And what is that principle? Well, it just so happens that I addressed this theme in my latest column for Counterpunch Magazine, now offered for your perusal below.

Pay in Blood: Modern Politics Made Simple

Modern politics can be hard to fathom, a bizarre mix of mind-bending complexities and bone-stupid banalities coming at us in a howling sandstorm of chaotic noise. How to sift the relentless, contradictory arcana of current events and make sense of it all? I find that a simple phrase helps thread the labyrinth – four little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:

Fuck Off And Die.

This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.

Of course, elite attitudes toward the lower orders have never been exactly tender; but in times past, a rather large number of sufficiently quiescent peasants and proles were required to create the wealth for plutocratic plundering and maintain the machinery of power and privilege. Thus some attention had to be paid to the rabble’s basic needs and even -- occasionally – their pitiful aspirations for a more meaningful, more humane life for themselves, their families and their communities. But now the means of production (to borrow a phrase) are largely mechanized and digitized; you don’t need many warm bodies -- and certainly not skilled or experienced or well-paid ones – to keep the money rolling in. And perhaps more importantly, the means of control -- the technologies of violence and surveillance -- are now vastly more powerful and pervasive and efficient than ever.

To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore -- or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth -- and the greasy mobility of global capital -- those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die -- and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.

And no need to worry about mass uprisings of the dispossessed, debt-ridden, insecure, angry, overwhelmed, isolated, media-dazed rabble. With hyper-militarized police forces, cameras on every corner, spies and provocateurs infesting every possible base of dissent, and gargantuan data-harvesters mining every public move and private click of the populace, repression is a piece of cake. And if by chance some pocket of protest does reach critical mass somewhere, your hi-tech, heavily armored goons can easily beat it, tase it and pepper-spray it into submission.

So the elites no longer need us or fear us. We are superfluous to their requirements. And their policies are now ever more nakedly geared to hammering this truth home.

The Great Crash of ’08 gave them the excuse to rip off the mask at last. For five years now, the iron hand of “austerity” has been pressed down hard upon ordinary people. We had no part in the criminal folly that caused the disaster -- yet we are the ones left paying for it, in lost jobs, lost homes, lost services, lost freedoms, lost opportunities, and cramped, crippled, diminished lives. From the "progressive" Obama to the Tory toff Cameron to the pseudo-Socialist Hollande to the dour centrist Merkel -- and all the other clowns, clerks and ciphers turning their self-proclaimed “great democracies” into cash cows for their cronies and controllers -- the infliction of pain on ordinary people is the only game in town. ‘O my gosh,’ our leaders cry, throwing up their soft, unblemished hands, ‘there's just no more money left, no money for your schools, your roads, your jobs, your pensions, your rights, your benefits, your elderly, your sick, your poor, your vulnerable. The money's all gone, what can we do?’

But of course the money is not gone, not at all. A new study -- by an inside man, James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey -- shows that up to $32 trillionhas been stashed away by the world’s elites in offshore accounts and other hidey-holes. Even a modest portion of this mountain of swag would completely alleviate the draconian “budget crises” and ludicrous “sequesters” that have been artificially imposed on nation after nation. All of the suffering, chaos, ruin and degradation being caused by these policies -- all the “skin in the game” that’s being flayed from the backs of ordinary people -- all of it is unnecessary. The money is there to solve these problems -- if our leaders wanted to solve them.

But they don’t. For “austerity” isn’t designed to fix our problems; it is instead meant to be a permanent condition, a new normal, the endless, changeless natural order. (Just as the “emergency” of the “War on Terror” has now morphed into a permanent way of life.) It’s all out in the open. Obama is eagerly offering to slash the social compact to ribbons. Cameron is driving the poor and sick to their knees. The IMF is breeding Nazis in Greece. They’re not even pretending to care about anyone outside the golden circle anymore.

Fuck off and die: that’s it, that’s all they’ve got to say. The rest is show-biz -- strip-tease and shell games -- to fleece us of our last few coins as they shove us out the exit.  more

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