Sunday, May 29, 2022

France: The New People’s Ecological and Social Union and the political independence of the far-left

Launch of NUPES, source: www.melechon.fr


Lisbeth Latham

On May 5, the National Council of the Parti Socialiste (PS) announced that it had agreed to participate in a joint election ticket with much of France’s electoral left, via the formation of the New People's Ecologist and Social Union (NUPES) in the June legislative elections. NUPES is made up of the France Insoumise, the PS, the Parti Communiste (PCF), Europe Ecologie Les Vertes (The Greens), Génération.s (the party founded by Benoît Hamon, the PS 2017 presidential candidate in the wake of the 2017 legislative elections), and other smaller formations around these larger groups. The emergence of this electoral union follows Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s strong performance in the first round of the presidential elections. Polls suggest the bloc could emerge as either the opposition to Macron’s parliamentary supporters or if the momentum continues to build that they could be in a position to form a government following the second round. As much as this is seen as the most united the French left has been, the French far-left in the form of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) and Workers Struggle (LO) remain aloof, with some raising concerns that this could undermine the ability of NUPES to reach the second round in some constituencies. In this piece, I will look at why this aloofness is a consistent position for the NPA and LO, and, at least in the case of the NPA, is not simply a reflection sectarian on the NPA’s part but instead, a continuity of the party’s position in the ongoing debate within France left on the what political basis to build a united left to challenge neoliberalism.

Mélenchon's performance in the presidential election first round
Mélenchon won 21.95% of the vote in the first round, coming in third behind Marcron (27.85%) and Le Pen (23.15%). This built on his performance in 2017 (19.6%) and 2012 (11.1%) and was the highest vote for a candidate to the left of social democracy ever (Jacques Duclos received 21.27% of the vote for the PCF in the 1969 election). However, it was in the context of a continuation of the historically low vote for the left of centre (left candidates totalled 27.31% of the vote in 2012, compared with a total vote of 43.75% in the first round of the 2012 elections).

At the launch of the NUPES’ election campaign on May 7, Mélenchon told the crowd:

“It is the first time in twenty-five years that a general agreement has been reached between all the forces of the traditional left, environmentalists and the youngest, the “rebellious”

“We had to lose the thread and have to weave it again so that, under our responsibility, we succeeded.

“What had not been done either by the leftist cartels, or by the Popular Front, or by May 68, or by the common program, we did it”

Basis of unity
The initiative to build a common left electoral block was initiated by France Insoumise reaching out to all left parties. The negotiations between left groups has given rise to essentially a unity platform for the election. This includes (the full accord is available here:
  • Increasing the minimum wage to 1,400 euros net (currently 1302); 
  • The creation of a youth autonomy allowance; 
  • The right to retire at age 60 for all; 
  • Freezing the prices of basic necessities; 
  • The strengthening and generalization of employee representation on boards of directors; 
  • The repeal of the El Khomri Law and other counter-reforms of the Labour Code; 
  • The affirmation of an imperative of ecological justice; 
  • The development of public services, the refusal of their privatization or their opening up to competition, the creation of a public service for early childhood and support for old age; 
  • The implementation of fairer taxation with, in particular, the restoration of the ISF and the repeal of the flat tax; The repeal of security laws that infringe on our individual freedoms; 
  • Real equality in the overseas territories, the right to water and the promotion of the Overseas Territories as the outposts of the ecological and solidarity bifurcation; 
  • The adoption of a housing shield in order to limit the share of income devoted to housing, in particular by controlling rents downwards throughout the territory and the production of social housing;
Building momentum and hope
Both Mélenchon’s performance, and the emergence of the NUPES, have given rise to hope that will translate into the possibility of building a substantially bigger united left vote - that will at the very least increase the capacity of NUPES candidates to qualify for the second round and potentially win seats - including increasing the capacity of its constituents parts to increase their number of seats. The coalition currently holds 42 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly, but if their vote was consolidated they could be in a position to be the main opposition voice to Macron and his Ensemble! (not to be mistaken for Ensemble which is a far-left grouping within FI) if it forms government, or as some are hopeful based on initial polling the possibility of NUPES forming a government with Melenchon as prime minister and thus side-line Macron as president. A Radio France Internationale report that a recent Ipsos poll showed “56 per cent of voters wanted Macron to lose the legislative and go into a "cohabitation" with the left, while 57 per cent supported the left uniting to field joint candidates”. More recent polls have suggested that NUPES could receive the largest vote in the first round, how this would translate into seats in the Nationally Assembly would be heavily dependent on how the voters who back eliminated candidates in the first round allocate their votes in the second.

LO and NPA aloof
Much of the focus on parties that are standing apart from NUPES has focused on far-left parties Workers Struggle (LO) and the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), although they are by no means the only forces standing apart with a number of PS candidates who are not in the seats that were allocated to the PS under the NUPES agreement announcing they will still stand. This focus on both LO and the NPA is primarily aimed at casting their refusal to join as being a consequence of them simply being sectarian Trotskyist forces. While this may the case with LO, who in response to the NPA’s request for discussions regarding the legislative elections, noted the NPA were involved in the discussions regarding the formation of NUPES saying:

“You present yourself as "the left of the left" with the project of "rebuilding a real left" to surf both on the disappointment of the government left and on unitary aspirations. We seek to build a revolutionary communist workers' party, totally independent of the reformist leaderships.”

These criticisms do not accurately reflect the orientation of the NPA to the process, or its criticisms, at least initially, of the new formation. The NPA was willing to meet with the FI leadership regarding joining what would become NUPES. With the NPA indicating in a statement on April 24, that they would have been willing to participate in a joint slate based on the proposed common platform - however, their hesitancy to participate was framed on the basis of who else Mélenchon and FI were willing to include, most notably the PS, their focus on securing Mélenchon the prime ministership rather than NPA’s focus on building extra-parliamentary power via the elections, a power which would be necessary regardless of whether NUPES are able to form a government. With the adherence of the PS to NUPES, the NPA ruled out participation in the coalition, as Philippe Poutou, NPA presidential candidate, said, “the NPA understood that in the end, its presence was not really desired by La France Insoumise”.

In a statement issued by the NPA national political council on May 5, they declared their orientation to NUPES candidates 

“In any case, we will call for a vote and support, including actively, the left-wing candidates of the NUPES, and we will not stand candidates against them. In other constituencies, against candidates labelled NUPES who embody a continuity with social liberalism, the NPA will seek, where the conditions are met, to give voice to an alternative, though unitive candidates, from the workplaces and working-class neighbourhoods, representing a fighting left, independent of institutions and social liberalism.”

The NPA has subsequently announced that it will stand 10 candidates formally as the NPA, which has resulted in public criticism from the “Spark” faction within the party, who declared on May 26, that its members would only support direct candidates of the NPA or LO, and criticised the NPA’s leadership of maintaining illusions in NUPES.

A break with social liberalism?
The NPA drawing a hardline regarding the participation of the PS in NUPES should come as no surprise. This is not just about the reality of the PS government from 2012 in refusing to reverse the Sarkozy’s 2010 increase of the pension age, which is now a central aspect of the coalition’s platform, or the significant attacks on workers seen in the El Khomri law (which NUPES pledges to overturn) that were passed in 2016. The NPA, and its precursor the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), have had as its principal position for joining any joint electoral project, running through the discussion around both a united candidate of the left (2007) and the creation of the Left Front (2010) and all subsequent unity projects, which has been complete political independence from social liberalism in the form of the PS. The NPA/LCR has seen the willingness, particularly of the PCF, to enter into governments with the PS that have carried out attacks on social spending and workers’ rights as a key factor contributing not only to the collapse of the PS’s vote but to the position of parties to the left of the PS, particularly the PCF an issue that would come into sharp relief if either NUPES are the primary opposition party, but even more so if they were to form government reliant on the vote of PS deputies.

Prior to the PS’s national council meeting, over 1000 PS members signed an open letter against participation in NUPES, and historic leaders, such as former President François Hollande, have spoken against the union, arguing it is a “betrayal of his legacy”, which is undoubtedly the case. In response to the decision by the PS to join NUPES Carole Delopes, the president of the Occitaine region, issued a call to rally all those PS members who are opposed to the "liquidation of the party". Sections of the right have also called on the PS to run instead with them. All of this will present ongoing pressure not only on the PS electorate but also on PS deputies once elected. A key way this resistance was overcome has been both the PS and EELV being offered substantially more constituencies to stand in, particularly winnable constituencies than they would have been entitled to under initial proposals based on a proportional distribution of constituencies based on the component party’s performance in the presidential elections.

The problem of abstentionism in the working class
The refusal of LO and the NPA to join NUPES and instead run their own candidates has raised concerns that this might result in some NUPES candidates not qualifying for the second round - interestingly the role of anti-NUPES PS candidates is not being raised in these same discussions. While this may be the case in some constituencies where LO and/or the NPA might poll well, the reality is that both parties' electoral base is small - both polling less than 1% nationally. Also, because of the relatively small size, there would be no guarantee that all those who would vote for these far-left parties would follow them if they were to join NUPES - at least a section of the voters being protests against the system rather than party loyalty. More importantly, in concentrating on the potential spoiler role that LO or the NPA might play in the first round, commentators are ignoring the much bigger challenge for the left - which is to substantially eat into what is currently one of the largest voting blocs in the French working class … those who abstain from the elections entirely. This bloc, both those who refused to vote, or spoiled their vote, constituted 28.51% of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections. Shifting a solid proportion of these voters would have a significant impact on NUPES performance, far more than the less than half million votes that LO and the NPA received in the presidential elections.

Whatever the outcome of the legislative elections on June 12 and 19, the real test for France’s left will come following the elections. Either in building a consistent opposition to Macron as an opposition bloc in both the parliament and in the streets, or if results deliver a left government, the challenge of attempting to change France, which will face opposition not only from the right internationally and in France, but also, rising tensions in perspective within the left itself.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Action to address climate change requires a break with the profit and growth drive

Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway

Lisbeth Latham

As the Morrison government continues its determined defence of fossil fuel industries, there has been a range of attempts to justify a shift away from Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels- not just for its domestic energy production, but also as a significant source of export revenue. While many of the arguments focus on the environmental impact of Australia’s current policy settings and their potential flow-on effects on both life and the economy, some stakeholders have sought to shift the government’s position and build broader support for action by instead focusing on the missed economic opportunities of not moving to quickly build and expand production capacity and technology in the renewable energy sector. I believe this orientation, which seeks to win support for climate action on the basis of the opportunity for growth and economic expansion, is deeply flawed and actually undermines attempts to build serious and determined responses to the climate crisis.

Urgent need for action
Repeated reports on the state of the earth’s climate have made it clear that warming, ice sheet melting, and extreme weather events are all going to be worse than what had been projected in earlier modelling. According to the projections of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report “6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are set to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C”. In addition, “impacts associated with other biodiversity-related risks such as forest fires and the spread of invasive species are lower at 1.5°C compared to 2°C of global warming (high confidence)”. In order to avoid a 1.5-degree-celsius increase in average global temperatures compared to 1850-1900, “we need to see a reduction in emissions of “CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range). Even if this reduction in emissions is achieved, the report’s modelling suggests that the risk of exceeding the 1.5-degree target would remain. Furthermore, large-scale singular events like the disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets would continue to occur, reflecting the “relatively large, abrupt and sometimes irreversible changes in systems that are caused by global warming”.

As Australia continues to feel the disastrous effects of global warming, the Morrison government has become increasingly vocal and intransigent in its denial of human-induced climate change. Although some inner metropolitan ministers have indicated support for net-zero emissions in the distant future, the LNP, and, to a lesser extent, the ALP, are wedded to the extractive industries. These industries, which notably include extractive fossil fuel, comprise one of the dominant sectors of Australian monopoly capital. For this reason, we see MPs in both the LNP and ALP who actively talk up the continued necessity of fossil fuels, albeit at times conceding the need for “clean” fossil fuels, in Australia’s energy mix. However, most of these arguments rely on talking points regarding both fossil fuels and renewables that were at best only factually correct decades ago - most notably with regards to the cost of power and the reliability of renewables but are now just flat-out lies.

The government’s resistance to climate action has inspired some sections of the climate movement to build the narrative that Australia is missing an opportunity to shift its economic base and become a “renewable energy powerhouse” or to argue for changes that simply shift the source of energy, without reducing power requirements, such with the push to move towards electric vehicles replacing fossil fuel-powered cars. Notable examples include the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Climate Council.

Undoubtedly, it is possible for Australia to play an important role in shifting the world’s energy production base to beyond net-zero, where we are releasing less carbon than the planet's capacity to remove it from the atmosphere. However, there are a number of problems with tying the need for climate action to drive up profits for capital.

We know that in order to sufficiently reduce emissions we need a global reduction in emissions. However, the Global North, which includes Australia, disproportionately produces greenhouse gases so it is these economies that must drive emissions reduction. We also know that the Global South is understandably trying to increase its energy production capacity to boost living standards and productive capacity in order to better meet the needs of their populations. Whilst this growth will need to priortise social goods over boosting individual consumer consumption, it is of central importance that the lead on this shift be taken by the Global North. The Global South should be supported in achieving this through a mass increase in renewable energy capacity by imperialist economies such as Australia. However, unlike with what we have seen with limited availability of vaccines in the Global South due to protecting the IP of pharmaceutical companies, this exchange needs to be based on genuine solidarity, not boomerang aid plans aimed at stripping the Global South of its wealth - a process that has continued unabated for more than 500 years.

The climate crisis is not just about emission levels but is a reflection of capitalist social relations. These relations are based on a constant drive to build profitability and result in massive wastage. This is not only in the form of overproduction but in mechanisms that drive consumption above what is necessary to sustain life, pushing the planet’s resources to their limits - such as built-in obsolescence which ensures shorter than necessary life to goods. For this reason, responses to the challenge of climate change can’t be premised on continuing with a profit-first approach to the economy, which is a primary driver of push around the use of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, even if these investments are really speculative Ponzi schemes, which require massive power consumption and have caused power crises in country after country. Either we seek to expand profits and continue on our express train to totally exhaust the planet’s resources, or make the changes necessary to have a sustainable economy that meets human needs. If we opt for the first approach we make it harder to make the argument for the need to move away from growth, which is just as essential to the planet’s survival as addressing climate change. We need to be clear about the measures that are necessary, and this includes seeking to achieve climate action based on degrowth, which has been defined as “voluntary transition towards a just, participatory and ecologically sustainable society

Finally, advocating for action based on its economic potential accepts the fundamental capitalist logic for determining action. That is the reason that capitalists and their governments have delayed action has been based on an economic judgement that it is better for the economy to not take action. Arguing that there is money to be made from climate action, simply takes this logic and flips it. In doing so advocates of this position help to undermine their own position should the promise of jobs and profits fall short.

We need to reject the premise that action should be driven by what is profitable and instead argue for a position that prioritises effective action to limit climate damage and envisions a society that ensures a decent quality of life for everyone, whatever the cost.

In saying this, I recognise that actors such as the Climate Centre and the WWF operate within the framework of the capitalist growth drive. So my argument is not primarily aimed at them. Instead, it is aimed at those in the movement who are open to the reality that we are pushing towards the planet’s limits and calling on them to embrace and argue for a climate strategy based on degrowth. The louder this voice is the greater the chance we have of building a climate movement that meets the challenges we face and to of lesser importance pull the more conservative voices of the existing movement into having to address and listen to our arguments and join us in saving the planet.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Everything is f***ed - So what do we do now?

Image by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
Lisbeth Latham

Over the last weeks of December, the COVID situation in Australia has deteriorated, every day we see new records in the number of infections, as the health systems strain under the pressure of both infections and exposures. In response governments at both the national and state level have responded with both blame-shifting and with attempts to redefine our way out of the crisis, most notably with a change in the definition of close contact. In context, after two long years of the pandemic, it is easy to feel exhausted, demoralised, and it is easy to want to blame someone - there is plenty of blame to go around - but we can’t afford to feel any of those things for too long - as it is up to us to get ourselves out of this mess - because we can if we work together.

Many people have looked on in horror as Australian states, most notably NSW and Victoria, have loosened public health restrictions whilst COVID case numbers began to climb and the world faced the potential problem of the new Omicron strain of COVID which was widely feared as being more infectious. The decision to open up, despite these concerns, was justified on two levels, the first were claims by some public health figures that while more infectious Omicron could potentially be less serious and thus help as a way out of the pandemic - it should be noted that at the time these claims were first made there was very limited evidence to support this view. Secondly, concerns of exploding case numbers were dismissed as fear-mongering. Finally, the repeated statements that it was necessary to “live with COVID” have carried both a sense of inevitability of widespread infection but that those who remain concerned about the danger of pandemic as somehow detached from reality. While this may appear new, it is important to understand that if the like of Morrison and Perrottet had had their way, the current response to COVID would have been the response in March 2020. The reason it wasn’t is they knew that people wouldn’t stand for it, but now twenty months into the pandemic people’s energy and resilience has been eroded and many more people are open to neoliberal selfishness that prioritises individual interests over collective good.

It is extremely important to reject any idea that it was inevitable we would get to this point, whether due to the need to “live with COVID” or because of how infectious Omicron is. The current situation was anticipatable, and it would have been possible to take actions that would have limited and prevented the current explosion in case numbers. However, the necessary steps would have meant asking people to make sacrifices - an ask that is increasingly difficult both because the sacrifices that people have been asked to make have been so uneven and because of the almost constant media commentary decrying public health measures which have eaten away at people’s resilience, particularly after months and months of sacrifice and hardship. A significant factor that has warn down Victoria has been the ongoing mobilisation of anti-vaxx forces, urged on an encouraged by the Liberals and sections of the media, that clearly cowed the Andrews government into seeing efforts at stronger health measures as being untenable.

So, what do we do? Well our starting point has to be accepting reality. First, this pandemic is going to be with us for some time, it can’t be wished away. Secondly, the pandemic is being exacerbated by inequality, both on a local, national and international stage. Finally, the globes productive capacity in many areas is at their limits, while this is exacerbated by dynamics of the capitalist drive there are real shortages and these won’t be overcome easily, our responses need to take this into account.

At present, we can’t immediately shift government decisions. However, there are many health measures that individuals can take to help contribute to minimising the spread of COVID. The most obvious are things like maintaining our mask-wearing, irrespective of government direction, socially distancing, minimising our socialising, limiting our movement to what is necessary. Obviously, some people will be in a position where there this is more possible than in others. In workplaces, where contact is necessary, then we need to collectively be seeking to win and enforce measures that seek to eliminate and minimise the risk of exposure of workers to COVID. However, the problem is that, with the current close contact definition, many workers who are exposed to COVID, and who should isolate, won’t qualify for PCR test let alone state financial support exacerbating the extent that during this pandemic that public health will come down to the individual decisions of workers and their own financial decisions.

For this reason, we must be looking to demand a change of course by the state and federal governments:
  • Immediate reversal of the close contact definition adopted at National Cabinet 
  • Immediate action to make Rapid Antigen Testing free and readily available 
  • Creation of a genuine job subsidy system to support all workers and sole-traders unable to work due to COVID exposure or closure of workplaces 
  • Reinstatement of the COVID pandemic subsidy for all recipients commonwealth payments
  • Immediate action to increase funding to public healthcare system to enable these systems to initially sustained through the pandemic and then expanded
  • Expanded support by Australia to ensure poorer nations have expanded access to vaccines as an urgent step to limit the emergence of new COVID strains

The Morrison government will not simply agree to any of these actions, for that reason we will need to look to work collectively to place social, industrial, and economic pressure on the government through whatever mechanisms are available to us in the context of a global pandemic. It will be hard work, but persistent and expanding pressure can shift their actions, not because they suddenly care about us, but because they understand that we won’t stop.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

Monday, October 11, 2021

Italy: Joint union call for anti-fascist demonstration in Rome

“No more fascisms” Landini, Sbarra and Bombardieri,
16 October demonstration in Rome
October 10 protest by CGIL members in response to the fascist attack, source: CGIL 


Statement by Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), Italian Confederation of Workers' Trade Unions (CISL), and Italian Labour Union (UIL)
Posted on 09/10/2021

"The CGIL, CISL and UIL will organize a major national anti-fascist demonstration for work and democracy on Saturday 16 October in Rome". This was stated by the general secretaries of the three trade union confederations, Maurizio Landini, Luigi Sbarra and PierPaolo Bombardieri.

“The squadron assault on the national headquarters of the CGIL” said the three union leaders – “is an attack on all Italian union confederations, on the world of work and on our democracy. We ask that the neo-fascist and neo-Nazi organizations be put in a position to do no harm by legally dissolving them”.

“It is time” concluded Landini, Sbarra and Bombardieri, “to affirm and implement the principles and values of our Constitution. We, therefore, invite all citizens and the healthy and democratic forces of the country to mobilize and take to the streets next Saturday ”.

Read more...

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

How do we build support for COVID vaccinations?

Lisbeth Latham

As the drive to raise vaccination rates increases and concerns regarding the ability of many industries which have either been shut down or pushed remotely to be able to safely return to the workplaces, there has been increased discussion of whether and how vaccination should be made compulsory. While the events in late September on Melbourne construction sites and outside the offices of the Construction and General Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime, and Energy Union, has been the most visible articulation of this debate it has not and will not end there. As both governments and individual employers have moved to make vaccines mandatory. In my view, much of this discussion misses the point. At best it distracts from the broader discussions that need to be had about how, in the context of COVID, we can ensure that workplaces are safe for workers and the broader public. At worst the discussion gives succour and ammunition to the bad faith and anti-working class actor in the anti-lockdown/anti-vaccination camp.

What are Vaccine mandates?
Vaccine mandates are legal requirements for people to be vaccinated to do specific activities. They should be based on medical evidence to support the requirement for vaccination to make a space safe. However, any legal requirement to be vaccinated needs to contemplate the need and make exemptions for individuals who are medically unable to be vaccinated - this accommodation does not need to mean the individual will perform the same duties, indeed there may well be a need to adjust their duties to protect them from the risk of exposure. Such medical mandates are not new, they already exist in a number of work contexts where exposure to or potential risk of transmission of specific communicable diseases are considered high.

In response to both hypothetical and concrete discussions regarding the introduction of workplace mandates, there has been a growing argument that such mandates are “heavy-handed” and remove choice from working people. The majority of these statements have come from organisations and individuals who ostensibly support and promote vaccination - although some, such as the LNP aligned “Red Unions”, which are clearly bad faith actors, and are openly hostile to vaccination and seeking to build themselves on the most likely false promise of defeating mandatory vaccination. I have concerns about direct objections to mandates, particularly on the basis of “choice”.

First, by focusing on an objection to mandates, individuals and organisations get distracted from their ostensive objective, which is supposedly maximising the number of people who are vaccinated. In doing so they tend to inadvertently lend their arguments to those opposed to vaccinations, for whatever reason they may oppose it. It is vital that those who recognise the need for mass vaccinations to promote workplace and public safety, not get distracted from supporting and facilitating people being vaccinated.

Secondly, the use of language regarding “choice” is a misnomer. Mandates don’t remove choice, they do however change the potential consequences of that choice. It means that in those parts of life, where medical advice is that vaccines are necessary, the individual in choosing not to be vaccinated is choosing not to be able to be in that space. This is no different to if individuals refuse to wear personal, protection, equipment, that choice means they cannot perform certain work. While there are differences between a vaccine and PPE, there are two things to note. The first is that many of those who defend their right to refuse vaccination, also demand the right to refuse to wear masks or follow other health advice with regard to minimising COVID transmission. The second is that refusal to follow safety requirements does not simply have potential personal impacts, it can put others at risk, this is particularly the case with COVID where there is the strong risk of not only further transmission but also the strain that transmissions have on the health care system and the ability for that system to provide other care to the community.

Thirdly, in focussing on vaccine mandates, we risk allowing employers and governments to avoid the equally important discussion about what other OHS measures need to be put in place to ensure that employers meet their obligations to provide safe workplaces. To counter this, workers and their unions need to be demanding consultation by employers not just about vaccinations, but other elimination and mitigation steps that are necessary in the workplace - these measures should not be just about direct risks of the virus, but also processes for ensuring that if there are requirements for members of the public to be vaccinated in order to interact with the workplace that the mechanisms for ensuring this is safe for workers.

Finally, many of the anti-vaccination forces are deeply cynical and willing to coopt and misrepresent arguments in order to buttress and built their position. The most obvious example of this is the cooption of the language of the reproductive rights movement as slogans of the movement. As such, it is important that we take every measure possible to ensure that any argument that we make cannot be used to argue against our objective, the vaccination of the maximum number of people possible in order to maximise public safety and health.

Instead of raising concerns regarding the potential of compulsion with regard to accessing vaccines what the movement needs to be focusing on is how we help to build public support for getting vaccinated. This is not new. Unions have a long history of build public support for health and safety campaigns - to normalise and make natural the steps necessary to keep people safe. This should be our focus. How do we, as a movement, expand the support for and the understanding of the need to be vaccinated and to continue to follow all public health measures to help reduce the transmission of COVID. In doing so we will not only make mandates irrelevant, but we will strengthen our ability to enforce safe workplaces that put health and safety before profits, and also constrain and limit the space that reactionary forces have to use the anxiety around COVID to build a movement against the interests of working people.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Capitalist oligarchy resist new tax regulations in Argentina

Federal Administration of Public Revenue building. Buenos Aires source Wikimedia Commons

Lisbeth Latham

The publishing of the Panama Papers in 2016 and in the last week the Pandora Papers have highlighted the systematic tax avoidance by multinational companies and rich individuals. In response, there has been a growing attention on the need for nations to close loopholes in their tax codes. This is due to the decline in tax revenue meaning that only is there less money available for social services, but being used as a justification for even more drastic reductions in government spending particularly those associated with social programs. While some of this focus has been at the level of multilateral cooperation, at the same time individual governments have considerable power to close loopholes in their own tax codes loopholes which enable global tax avoidance. Since 2020, the Alberto Fernández government in Argentina has introduced a range of new tax codes which have met with vigorous opposition from capital and their representatives within Argentina’s right.

The problem of global tax avoidance
According to the State of Tax Justice 2020 report, the global loss of tax revenue globally due to tax avoidance by multinationals and rich individuals is $427 billion (USD). Of this lost revenue, $245 billion is a consequence of multinational companies shifting profits to subsidiaries in low tax havens to underreport their profits in the countries they are actually carrying out their business in. A further $182 billion in potential global tax revenue is lost as a consequence of wealthy individuals hiding undeclared assets and incomes offshore.

Much of the avoidance by multinational is aimed taking advantage of bilateral agreements to avoid “double taxation”, where governments have entered into agreements to avoid a single income stream being taxed twice - however with minimization arrangements the rich deliberately and artificially shift the income so that it appears it to have generated in the lower tax jurisdiction rather than where the actual work and income generation occurred.

While the reduction in tax revenue is unsurprisingly greatest in high-income nations $382.7 billion (2.5% of collected tax revenue), the actual impact on revenue on low-income nations is far higher $45 billion (5.8% of collected tax revenue). This disproportionate impact makes it essential that action in addressing tax minimization and avoidance is taken globally. In Latin America, according to the Tax Transparency in Latin America Report, lost revenue due to tax non-compliance was estimated at 6.1% of GDP in 2018.

Latin America also has a disproportionate level of wealth held offshore with an estimate of EUR 900 billion or 27% held offshore, compared to Asia (4%), Europe (11%) and the United States (4%).

Initial efforts at closing loopholes have occurred primarily in the global north, most particularly the EU and North America, however, there have also been important steps taken in countries of the global south, most notably South Africa and Argentina.

Argentina’s tax code changes
Argentina has had a transfer pricing system, which sets the methods and rules for pricing transactions between and within enterprises with the same ownership or control, within its tax code since 1998. Tax regulation was further updated in 2017 by the Mauricio Macri government, this was updated following the recommendations by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the G20 action plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting in response to the Panama Papers, however, these changes did not fully comply with the recommendations and the code was not seen as being sufficient to address the problem of tax minimization and reduction by either multinationals or rich individuals.

In 2020, the Argentine government, via the Federal Administration of Public Revenue (AFIP) brought in a range of new tax regulations aimed at both closing tax loopholes and creating greater transparency regarding the incomes of companies and individuals, particularly where international parties are involved. The most significant changes being contained within General Resolutions 4697, 4838, and 4879.

General Resolution 4697 creates a requirement for companies and individuals, other than trusts or foundations, to disclose ownership structures and income (including passive income) to AFIP. In addition, the resolution requires those companies and individuals encompassed by the code to disclose and report their tax arrangements.

General Resolution 4838 requires the disclosure of domestic and international tax plans of both individuals and corporations. This obligation is placed on both the “taxpayer” and “tax advisors”. The resolution includes the requirement to disclose information on assets and tax systems of an entity operating in a tax haven or other jurisdiction that would otherwise limit disclosure.

General Resolution 4879 requires the disclosure of ultimate beneficial ownership interests within trusts (which normally obscure precise ownership relationships).

Response of the ultra-rich
The changes to Argentina tax regulations have met with opposition and criticism from both accountants and sections of capital. Accountants, such as César Litvin, have raised concerns that the new regulations undermine their professional privacy as they are required to disclose their clients' tax systems which may or not be being used to minimize tax obligations within Argentina, describing the requirement to disclose client’s savings systems as a “violence” against professional confidentiality. The system does allow tax agents to claim professional confidentiality in reporting, however, the tax agents have complained that doing so will create the impression that the client has something to hide regarding their tax plans. While sections of capital have also that the minimum threshold for reporting is at the discretion of the AFIP and that disclosure of the information is required not just to AFIP but to other parties.

This has given rise to a number of legal challenges to the constitutionality of the resolutions, by accountants and tax lawyers, primarily on the basis that they argue that such changes to tax rules and reporting requirements should have required legislative changes rather than by a directive from the AFIP. However, these challenges which initially had some success in administrative courts have been rejected in a series of hearings since January.

Need for solidarity with Argentina and action by other states
While it is important that jurisdictions such as Argentina and South Africa take action to limit tax avoidance, and their efforts should be supported and applauded, it is also important to recognize that actions taken by individual state actors, particularly those with relatively smaller economies will not only be insufficient to challenge the problem of global avoidance, but it is also likely to result in significant divestment in these jurisdictions outside of investment in extractive industries. This is because capital, if given the opportunity, will seek to punish jurisdictions that tax them by investing and focusing investment on jurisdictions that are more “business-friendly”, with the exception of those industries where there are fewer options regarding the location of investment, as part of the global race to the bottom in terms of taxation as in other industries. For this reason, it is essential that other jurisdictions, particularly those in the global north not only seek to place serious limits on tax avoidance in their own jurisdictions but support efforts by the global south to extract taxes from multinational companies. An important phase in expanding this response will be the next round of the Punta del Este Declaration on Transparency, a Latin American multilateral initiative aimed at increased international tax cooperation, which Argentina is chairing in 2021, its next reporting meeting is in November.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

Monday, September 20, 2021

The sobering reality of opening up


Lisbeth Latham

In recent weeks, political and media commentary about the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia has focused on the question of when, in the context of growing vaccination rates, the country should consider ‘opening up’ (in this context a permanent and total break from lockdowns).

This discussion conveniently ignores the reality that the situation in Australia -particularly in NSW and Victoria - is increasingly out of control and, consequently, neglects the more urgent questions of what should be done now. Despite the situation in NSW, the state government is pushing ahead with its plans to lift restrictions for the vaccinated leaving many of the poorest and most culturally and linguistically diverse local government areas in lockdown[1].

Are Lockdowns sustainable?
This is not a simple question. Nonetheless, it is the case that there is a limit to how long the current lockdowns can be sustained. This is due to the insufficient support being provided to those in the most economically precarious circumstances. This lack of support, which has only worsened as the pandemic has progressed, only serves to punish workers whose work has enabled communities to lockdown in the first place. If this was addressed, the capacity to maintain lockdowns would be expanded, yet at a certain point key sectors of the economy - those necessary for sustaining lives - would also be disrupted. Luckily, no one has ever suggested permanent lockdowns. Instead, governments have advocated for lockdowns of sufficient length to suppress the virus to levels that enable us to protect lives and health.

Mental Health
A major argument against lockdowns has been that they contribute to community mental health concerns. There is no doubt that lockdowns are tough; loneliness and isolation are significant predictors of mental health problems and lockdowns are often very lonely experiences. In addition to these commonly shared impacts, many people are experiencing additional stressors. These include the constant threat of infection; concerns around income loss and the cost of living; relationship stress arising from home confinement; and supporting and caring for children with little to no understanding of the restrictions’ purpose or necessity

However, much of the media discourse around mental health feels disingenuous, many commentators seem to believe that lockdown is the only cause of the current strain on the mental health system and that it’s lifting the only solution. Such commentators conveniently ignore the range of support mechanisms that could be further deployed to support community mental health. Furthermore, their constant depictions of lockdowns as wrong and corrosive are demoralising and may negatively impact people’s ability to cope and persevere. Lifting the lockdowns in the context of widespread community transmission is a recipe for mass infections and large scale death - both of which would devastate communities, particularly when the people dying are your loved ones. Too often media discourse around the psychological impact of lockdowns is nothing more than a cynical exercise aimed at building pressure for opening up, with little or no consideration for people’s actual mental health.

Debate in epidemiology
From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been notable discrepancies in the advice being given by epidemiologists regarding the preventative measures that should be applied to minimise the spread of COVID-19. To an extent, these differences should come as no surprise; COVID is a novel virus and it took time for the mechanisms via which it spreads to be fully understood. Furthermore, with professional reputations at stake, it is unsurprising that many experts have doubled down on their own position or attacked the conflicting opinions of their colleagues. The additional seduction of building a media profile by publicly endorsing or criticising government position(s) has not helped matters either. Nonetheless, a much bigger debate has unfolded within epidemiology throughout the crisis. This debate centres on how and when to make judgements about the adoption of various preventative public health mechanisms. On the one hand, epidemiologists from the “medical-based evidence” camp have resisted adopting measures without conclusive evidence that supports their value or efficacy. These experts argue that the potential cost of such mechanisms far outweigh any benefits - benefits which they say are at best unproven and at worst, nonexistent. On the other hand, were the epidemiologists who argued that, in the context of a major global public health crisis, it was neither possible nor prudent to simply wait for the evidence to come in. For these epidemiologists, adopting measures such as masks and social distancing was essential because their potential to curb infection risk far outweighed any potential costs, most of which were financial. This debate has occurred publicly, most noticeably in the Boston Review, but also in the exponential increase of opinion pieces and media interviews with epidemiologists regarding not only what actions work, but also what level of effectiveness is worth the social and economic cost. Early in the Pandemic, in response to statements by Bill Gates that “COVID was a once in a lifetime pandemic”, Stanford University epidemiologist John Ioannidis wondered if the coronavirus pandemic might rather be a “once-in-a-century evidence fiasco.”

I’m not in a position to judge the scientific merits of the modelling, but it is important to recognise that these judgements are not purely objective, but informed by subjective judgements regarding how we ought to weigh threats to life against the economic impacts of policy options. I personally stand by the idea that preserving human life and health is where we need to place our priorities - not only because saving lives is the whole point, but also because of the harmful impacts mass illness and death have on people’s livelihoods and the economy at large. Those who prioritise the economy at the expense of human life are not only lacking in empathy but have an unaccounted for, built-in error in their calculations.

Vaccinations: are they a magic bullet?
Since the emergence of viable vaccinations for COVID - public discourse has shifted towards the idea that the way to deal with the virus is to focus on mass vaccinations and that a vaccinated population would effectively eliminate the need for lockdowns. This argument has a number of flaws. First, reaching mass vaccination has been slow. This is understandable, since achieving mass production of vaccines takes time. In particular, the mNRA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna are essentially new technologies, meaning that whole new production and supply chains have had to be created from scratch.

Related shortages in production have contributed to and exacerbated the uneven distribution of vaccines globally. This is not just devastating for those populations left unvaccinated and who are left more vulnerable to infection and death; the mass transition also creates much better conditions for the mutation of the virus and is associated with the development of new strains, some of which may be more infectious, more deadly and/or more resistant to available vaccines. For this reason, it is essential that overcoming global inequalities in vaccine distribution becomes a priority for all rich countries, including Australia - not just as an act of solidarity (though this should be the primary driver) but also as an act of self-preservation.

In addition to the problem of vaccine inequality and the associated risk of new and increasingly deadly strains, much of the discourse around vaccination has overstated the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection, illness, and transmission between and among populations. While the effectiveness of vaccines is uneven, no vaccine for any illness delivers these outcomes. This disjuncture between promise and reality has thus lent undue credence to bad-faith actors, expanding and legitimising opposition to vaccinations and lockdown. Opponents, therefore, argue (or at the very least imply) that inaction is preferred to measures that cannot guarantee a 100 per cent success rate.

Still, the reality that mass vaccinations will not eliminate the virus has done little to impede the proliferation of media commentary linking mass vaccination to “opening up”. Instead, it has led to a growth in public discourse about the need to “live with the virus”. Such discourse initially relied on technically true statements that the vaccine would make it less likely for the vaccinated to get infected, to become seriously ill, and to die or infect others. Yet as concerning levels of infections continue to be recorded in countries with much higher vaccination rates, the rhetoric from a section of capital, political parties/leadership and the media have attempted to normalise infections and COVID-related deaths, arguing that these are acceptable price pay for ending “unsustainable lockdowns”. This push has, in many cases, been heavily reliant on modelling by researchers at the Doherty Institute whose research has informed the National Plan to transition Australia’s Covid response. What is clear is that this modelling is inadequate, but also that even the most optimistic projections include much higher levels of infection and death than Australia's previous strategy ever contemplated. Moreover, it is also clear that many of the assumptions which underlie this more optimistic projection, such as effective test, track and isolation mechanisms do not currently exist. Australians are thus being softened up for precisely the horrors seen in other countries - horrors which our collective sacrifice of lockdowns was aimed at avoiding.

This pressure is not new. It has been at play in Australia since the start of the pandemic. The idea that the economy should be prioritised over life - a position that was resisted not only by unions, but sections of capital, and most importantly some of the state and territory governments - most notably Victoria, WA, and Queensland - has drawn persistent attacks from large sections of capital, the media, and the LNP. This is despite the complete failure of their preferred model. Thus these ongoing attacks are not only bad in terms of their intent or potential outcome but are divisive and demoralising, sapping people’s reserve of endurance and tolerance. Lockdown is hard enough without constant reminders that it is too hard, unnecessary, or the supposed fever dream of a crazed dictator. While those who think lockdowns are horrible but necessary are unfairly denounced as mindless cultists, such discourse continues to create fertile ground for the conspiracy theories being actively spread by the far-right.

Human Rights
Questions surrounding the implications of lockdown measures for human rights, including the most appropriate means for convincing people to adhere to public health measures have also been a constant topic of debate. There is no doubt that the impact of lockdowns has been uneven, with race and class location significantly impacting certain populations' experience of not just lockdown but also some of the more repressive measures deployed by governments in the name of public health. For this reason, there need to be not only more and better resources allocated to support those in lockdown, but also increased accountability and scrutiny of the actions of the police. Having said this, focusing on the rights of individuals to not be impacted by the state ignores the intent and positive consequences that such health measures have on reducing infection rates. Protection from potentially life-threatening and debilitating illness is also a significant human right and in weighing these two rights we need to form a judgement about where to place our emphasis. In this respect, I am firmly in favour of preventing loss of life and promoting health. Public health orders play an important role in achieving this goal, and in order for them to be meaningful, there need to be consequences for breaching them - consequences which also must be appropriate, proportionate, and consistent in their application.

Pressure on public health
Part of the discussion regarding the response to’ COVID-19 has focused on pre-existing problems in public health systems, both in Australia and across the globe. These critiques point to the impact that decades of underfunding have had on public health systems as part of the neoliberal transformation of our societies. This transformation has effectively reduced both the available staffing in frontline and support roles and the number of available beds. It has also meant that, despite long-standing concerns regarding the risk of an emergent pandemic, little was done to prepare for it. These are important critiques. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that even in the most ideal situation COVID, with its high level of infectiousness and increased risks of hospitalisation and long term complications, would have been a challenge. This can be seen that globally, despite the different capacities of health systems globally, as well as the different suites of policy responses have had varying degrees of horrific outcomes with a few notable exceptions.



Concerns about lifting lockdown restrictions prematurely
This concern is based on the fact that there is only a narrow margin for error and getting the timing and details wrong would put significant pressure on the country’s already strained health care systems. The reality is that while decisions about how hospital beds are used can be made quickly, simply designating additional beds for ICU or ventilation isn’t sufficient. In order to make these arrangements work, hospitals need additional qualified and trained staff - and those staff simply don’t exist. The Victorian health unions went further on September 17 released a joint statement which included: 
‘‘This has been a long, tough and incredibly stressful 18 months for healthcare workers. The impact on their mental and physical wellbeing has been huge. We need the Premier to hold the line and maintain strong public health measures to help keep the pressure on the hospitals and the healthcare workers as low as possible. We must stop counting bed capacity and start looking at healthcare worker capacity, both mental and physical. Healthcare workers are at breaking point. You have no health system without health professionals to run it”.
So, what are we to do? It is true the current lockdown will eventually need to end. However, the question of when and how must be contested. While rates of community transmission remain high you can’t substantially weaken the provisions without also substantially increasing the level of vaccination rates in the community. Even at this point, the measures need to account for and seek to protect those sections of the community that are unable to be vaccinated. This means that most of the social distancing and PPE measures that have been in place for the virus will need to be retained, at least at some level, for the foreseeable future. Finally, we should not accept the idea of a permanent end to lockdowns. In the event that infections rise again, we must continue to look to lockdowns as an option to protect people and to safeguard health care systems which, if overwhelmed, would exacerbate the possibility of further (and otherwise preventable) loss of life.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
As a disclaimer, it is important to acknowledge that, like the vast majority of commentators in Australia, I am not an epidemiologist. As such I will not attempt to interpret models or do my own modelling, instead, I seek to simply explore issues that I feel are being overlooked in the current discussion.

This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.

Read more...

About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP  

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.