Thursday, January 19, 2023

How we can respond to the cost of living crisis



Lisbeth Latham

Throughout late 2021 and 2022, we have seen rising inflation pressures both in Australia and internationally. The growth in inflation, whilst initially dismissed as a serious problem, has now triggered sharp increases in interest rates by central banks globally combined with a significant rise in capital and governments blaming inflation wage growth and warning against the “danger” posed by efforts by workers seeking to maintain their purchasing power via wage rises - an action which has been blamed for driving the current inflationary pressure.

What is causing inflation?
While there is generally a range of pressures at any given time to increase the cost of goods and services, the current increases reflect an intersection between different world events. These are primarily:
All of these factors have placed upward pressure on the costs of goods.

However, a more significant factor has been the decision by a wide range of companies to boost the price of their goods to a level substantially above any underlying rise in costs. This is reflected in a wide range of companies experiencing massive growth in profits substantially above their growth in turnover - suggesting that the primary driver is deliberate price gauging by these companies in a context where they believe they can shift blame for price rises to external factors.

Interest rates
Globally the response of central banks to inflationary pressures has been to move to reduce the money supply by raising interest rates. While for certain sections of the economy, such as in stock market speculation and the housing market, this will undoubtedly result in an effective reduction in spending that will not necessarily disrupt the economy - for most working people these rate rises are likely to cause potentially catastrophic disruption, that will not only be individually devastating, as a consequence of rising mortgage repayments in the context of significant and widespread mortgage stress, and the inability to afford basic costs of good.

Stagnant wages
Wages in advanced capitalist countries prior to the current crisis had largely been stagnant during a period of low inflation, this stagnation has been exacerbated by the current inflationary pressure. Wage stagnation has been a result of: 
  • Hostile industrial relations regimes that have weakened the power of workers and their unions whilst limiting the restrictions on employers deploying power; 
  • An aggressive approach to bargaining and wage setting by employers as a consequence of historically low-profit growth 
In Australia, the problems of enterprise bargaining under the Fair Work Act - which has seen record low wages growth in the past decade have been raised by both the ACTU and the ALP as a basis to amend the Act, most notably to enable unions to engage in multi-employer bargaining and have access industrial action during such bargaining, currently, workers are prohibited from taking industrial action in pursuit of a multi-employer agreement.

The introduction of improved multi-employer bargaining will have the potential to improve the bargaining power of those workers who have been historically excluded from enterprise bargaining, however it is important to recognise that the legislation excludes more than 2 million workers employed in smaller workplaces from this bargaining pathway. In addition, the passing of amendments is unlikely to help boost the wages of many workers in the short term, particularly not quickly enough to address the current cost of living crisis. This is due to a number of factors but most significantly: 
  • Bargaining is not a quick process; 
  • The legislation won’t magically overcome the low level of union density, which is compounded by low levels of workplace organisation in the majority of sectors; 
  • Many workers are already covered by agreements that have yet to expire and will deliver a decline in real wages over their remaining lives of those agreements 
As such we need to explore ways in which to address the cost of living crisis outside of wage fixing. The most obvious solution would be to create a universal income supplement that would be received by all. This would able to be more rapidly adjusted than wages, and by making it universal it ensures that other groups outside of wage setting systems, such owner operators and those on government pensions, also have their purchasing power maintained. However, the creation of an income subsidy should not be seen as counter to the existing push to increase pensions to the poverty line, but instead as an additional supplement to that.

Limiting price rises
However, simply seeking to maintain working people’s purchasing power will be insufficient to deal with the current cost-of-living crisis. As increased purchasing power is likely to drive costs up in at least some sections of the economy. This is not because these mechanisms are necessarily inflationary - they aren’t - but instead, the maintenance of purchasing power would allow owners of capital to seek to increase their profits by absorbing this increased ability to pay. To ensure that we aren’t just boosting profits to sections of capital, there will need to be strict limits to increases in costs to those caused by actual inflationary pressures rather than gouging. While this is widely discussed in relation to power and fuel prices, there is no need for these companies to be compensated for their profit not rising as much as they could - indeed their significant profits should instead be properly taxed to help fund the income supplement. In addition, governments should act to freeze both rents and mortgage payments - both need to be frozen to ensure we don’t see mass defaults in the residential housing market - which would further open this market up to vulture capital buying houses cheaply in any depressed housing market, particularly in a period when working-class home buyers will face significantly higher borrowing costs.

Paying for an income subsidy 
A major argument against any such increase in social spending will be the state of the federal budget, particularly in the wake of the significant social spending during the earlier period of the pandemic, after all as Theresa May sad, “there is no magic money tree”. 

However, the reality is that there are significant sources to improve the treasury’s revenue situation. 

The first of these is to not go ahead with third stage of tax cuts which were originally legislated by the former Morrison government. These cuts primarily benefit high income earners and if stopped would retain an estimated extra $238B in government revenue over the next ten years.

Secondly, is to recognise, as John Christensen and Nicholas Shaxson have put it “there is a magic money tree or trees: one version of which would be “tax havens, multinational enterprises, and the mega rich””. Research by the Australian Institute indicates that five of the six major gas exporters paid no tax on $138 billion in revenue in the past seven years. This reflects the ongoing and problem of large corporations avoiding their tax obligations, a problem which requires, like in other countries, further tightening of a broad range of regulations. In addition, Australia should also look at imposing windfall taxes (that is higher taxes) on any profits that are being expanded as a consequence of them taking advantage of the current inflationary pressure, rather than look at increasing the subsidising fossil fuel companies to compensate them for limiting the extent of their profiteering.

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Saturday, November 5, 2022

Ukraine: A "just peace" is only possible if Ukrainian people can defend themselves

Ukrainian anarchists within Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force source: libcom.org

Lisbeth Latham

In their recent opinion piece in Green Left Weekly Peter Boyle and Alex Bainbridge argue that anti-war activists in Australia should be calling for negotiations in Ukraine and oppose any effort to expand the war. This is in response to Fred Fuentes’s call for support for the ability of Ukraine to defend itself. Boyle and Bainbridge make a number of arguments, similar to other sections of the Western left, which Ukrainian radical forces have rejected as being based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe, particularly the role of Putin’s Russia as the regional imperialist power.

Boyle and Bainbridge express concern at the costs of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had on human life and the potential for this to escalate as winter approaches. Flowing from this Boyle and Bainbridge conclude that the West’s provision of military support, in the form of weapons, equipment, intelligence, and training, to Ukraine risks unnecessarily prolonging the war and thus human suffering. Instead of supporting, or even demanding military support, as Fuentes, and the Ukrainian left, do, Boyle and Bainbridge argue that anti-war activists should instead be calling for negotiations.

This logic is fundamentally flawed. First, it ignores that the primary cause of suffering and death in Ukraine is the Putin government’s decision to invade. The risk of further loss of life and injury could be immediately avoided if Russian forces were to withdraw from Ukrainian territory unconditionally. For anti-war activists to demand negotiations or a return to diplomacy accepts that Russia has a right to intervene in Ukraine. Such a position echoes the debates in the movement against the Vietnam War. As Doug Lorimer wrote in his history of ‘The movement against the Vietnam War’, in reference to the Communist Party of Australia’s call for the US to “Stop the bombing, negotiate”:

“Almost alone, Resistance continued to support the "Out Now!" demand. We argued that "Stop the bombing, negotiate!" failed to recognise the Vietnamese people's right to national self-determination, the central issue underlying the war”.

Moreover, should negotiations occur between Ukraine and Russia, these negotiations would be informed by the balance of forces between Russia and Ukraine that exist at the time of those negotiations. The arming of Ukraine has allowed the Ukrainian people to initially blunt Russia’s invasion and subsequently launch counterattacks on a number of fronts. It is precisely this shift, in both the balance of forces and the momentum of the conflict, which has prompted some of Putin’s allies internationally, such as Trump, to call for negotiations to occur. However, as Volodymyr Artiukh and Taras Fedirko have pointed out, the Putin government has acted in bad faith around negotiations, primarily using them as “a smokescreen” for its aggression in Ukraine.

An important question that anyone calling on Ukraine to negotiate regarding its national sovereignty should answer is, what would the basis of negotiations be, when Putin and his allies deny the right of Ukraine to exist as a state? Calling for negotiations while Russian forces are on the backfoot but still holding significant amounts of Ukrainian territory would also place Putin in a position to demand ceding of Ukrainian territory as a basis for peace. Such an outcome could hardly be called a “Just Peace”, but more accurately the rewarding of criminal action.

Central to Boyle and Bainbridge’s argument is the imperial ambitions of the US and its allies to seek to maintain the US’s global imperialist hegemony. It is undoubtedly true that the US is seeking to use the conflict in Ukraine to undermine Russia’s attempts to re-establish itself as the dominant power in the territories which formerly made up the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. In doing this they also hope to isolate China as it emerges as an alternative pole of economic and military power able to challenge US dominance.

Having said this, our assessment of US intentions should not be a primary determining factor in our attitude towards conflicts or popular movements. The orientation of revolutionary and progressive forces should be predicated on the needs and interests of popular movements, and not how imperialist powers might seek to maneuver in relation to those movements to protect their own interests. While many left forces have criticised the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for accepting military support from the US, the Socialist Alliance (SA), which both Boyle and Bainbridge are in the leadership of, has historically defended the right of the SDF to receive weapons necessary to defend themselves. Indeed, SA and Green Left Weekly have taken a position calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Northern and Eastern Syria - which is to be enforced by the US and Russia.

This begs the question, how the sending of arms to the SDF can be not just permissible but something that would be demanded, but we should oppose the Ukrainian people receiving arms to defend themselves? While our positions on different situations do not need to be, and shouldn’t be, identical, we should be able to explain why they are different, and I personally struggle to see how there is such a fundamental difference.

I believe that progressive forces should defend the right of both Rojava and Ukraine to defend themselves and that this means being able to obtain military equipment from whoever will provide it. Indeed, as has been made clear by the Ukrainian left, particularly the militants of Sotsialnyi Rukh, the defeat of Russia’s military aggression is a prerequisite for the democratic and social development of Ukraine and we should support their efforts to achieve that outcome.

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Sunday, September 25, 2022

France: For a feminist and trans alliance


September 22
Originally published by the New Anti-Capitalist Party

Following the publication by Planned Parenthood of a poster for trans men in the context of their pregnancies, activists opposing the rights of trans people in the name of feminism signed on August 22, an open letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, in the weekly Marianne.

We feminists reject this instrumentalisation of women's rights, fight against any opposition between feminism and trans struggles and condemn without appeal these discourses that are part of a reactionary offensive.

The use of fallacious arguments
Anti-trans activists denounce an essentialization of women by a so-called "transactivism", while reducing women to their mere genitals. This definition contradicts the majority of feminist writings produced since the 1960s. You are not born a woman, you become one. Similarly, what is referred to as sex covers a set of factors that go beyond the binarity imposed for centuries.

Being a woman does not stem from the mere sexual assignment, but from an exploitation that takes several forms: economic, domestic, sexual. Thus, contrary to what anti-trans activists claim, trans women are also exposed to these exploitations and to gender-based and sexual violence. There is no universal condition of "women" but a set of diverse experiences according to the social positions of each.

By basing their argument on the general public's ignorance of the struggles and experiences of trans people, anti-trans activists demonize transition paths. They show intellectual dishonesty playing on fear of trans children. Gender dysphoria would then become a mental disorder, operations, mutilations, and support from medical staff and the trans community, conversion therapies. As with marriage equality, the protection of children becomes a false nose behind which they hide to weigh in the public debate against trans people.

Trans rights are inseparable from women's rights
The current political period is seeing a violent backlash on women's rights, as the French government retains ministers accused of rape. Elsewhere in the world, the right to abortion is being violated, particularly in Poland and the United States. With 89 RN (National Rally) deputies in the National Assembly, we are not exempt from an attack of such magnitude. It is more important than ever not to get the fight wrong.

In the United States, the attack on abortion rights was preceded by numerous anti-trans laws: in Ohio, the Save Women's Sports Act provides that if a student's gender is in doubt, the student must undergo an intrusive examination to prove their gender. In all these cases, it is an attack on people's right to control their bodies. The arrival of similar attacks on trans people in France suggests a fate similar to that of the United States.

The essentialist view of women promoted by anti-trans activists is shared by reactionary theorists and masculinists. It is no surprise that these two groups have cooperated and that the far right is the first relay of anti-trans publications.

What are the prospects for the feminist and trans movements? Regardless of whether transitions seem incomprehensible or abstract, trans people are not a thought exercise meant to question what defines male and female roles.

The current political situation is forcing the feminist movement to position itself in support of trans people's demands. Attending without taking sides is not an option. Not claiming to be anti-trans is not enough, we must actively demand with trans people and with feminists, trans emancipation.

We demand the autonomy of transition pathways, the simplification of access to administrative procedures, the training of health personnel, access to transitional care and full reimbursement.

We call for the real opening of medically assisted procreation to trans people and the facilitation of administrative filiation for trans parents.

We call for massive support for associations helping trans people and an increase in subsidies to ensure the sustainability of their actions.

We defend a materialistic approach to trans issues, that is, one that is not entangled in an essentialist approach to femininity, based on the experiences of trans people and not on what reactionaries fantasize about it.

We demand that the press and media take responsibility for how they represent and disseminate discourse about trans people.

We demand clear, economic and institutional support from political actors for trans people and their rights.

We stand against the instrumentalisation by anti-trans interest of the journeys of lesbians and people who have detransitioned.

We oppose the discord that some are trying to push between feminism and trans rights.

We call for the active support of all forces claiming feminism towards trans people.

first signatories:
Organizations
Commission Proud and Revolutionaries of the Communist Party of France; Bread and Roses (Permanent Revolution); Europe Ecology The Greens (EELV); Homosexuality and Socialism (Party of the Radical Left); New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA); Libertarian Communist Union; Student Union Federation; National High School Movement; Student Solidarity - Unions of Struggle; Sex Workers Union; Video Game Workers Union; Trade Union Solidarity; The High School Student Voice.

Individuals
Ségolène Amiot, France Unbowed MP (LFI); Pénélope Bagieu, author; Alexandre Baril, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa; Marc-Antoine Bartoli, Prevention Coordinator of Act Up-Paris; Lauren Bastide, journalist; Amal Bentounsi; Alix Béranger, feminist, clinical psychologist; Marilou Berry, actress and director; Olivier Besancenot, spokesperson and former NPA presidential candidate; Agnès Bihl, singer; Pauline Bock, journalist with Freeze-frame; Billie Brelok, rapper; Barbara Butch, DJ; Marie Cau, only trans mayor in France; Magyd Cherfi, author, former singer of the group Zebda; Aya Cissoko, boxing champion and author; Clarika, singer; Pauline Clochec, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Picardy; Maëlle Le Corre, journalist and author; Margot De Re, Belgian ecologist and feminist MP; Virginie Despentes, author; Rokhaya Diallo, journalist, author and director; Karine Espineira, sociologist, Paris 8 University; Casey Fabries, co-secretary general of Act Up-Paris; Éric Fassin, sociologist, Paris 8 University; Julie Ferrua, national secretary of the Trade Union Solidarity; Amandine Gay, director and author; Murielle Guilbert, co-delegate of the Trade Union Solidarity; Adèle Haenel, actress; Andy Kerbrat, LFI MP; Aurore Koechlin, Collective Feminist Revolutionary and sociologist, Paris 1 University; Sarah Legrain, LFI MP; Mademoiselle K, singer; Tal Madesta, journalist and author; Alex Mahoudeau, author of "The Panic Woke"; Mirion Malle, author; Florie Marie, spokesperson of the Pirate Party; Jul' Maroh, transfeminist artist; Daria Marx, feminist activist; Corinne Masiero, actressChristophe Martet, editor-in-chief of Komitid (LGBT+ news website); Cloé Mehdi, author; Guillaume Meurice, comedian and radio journalist; Liza Monet, rapper artist; Yolande Moreau, actress; Danièle Obono, LFI MP; Ocean, director and actor; Paloma (Hugo Bardin), drag queen; Eric Piolle, EELV mayor of Grenoble; Jüne Plã, author of Enjoyment Club; Pomme, singer; Christine Poupin, NPA spokesperson; Philippe Poutou, spokesperson and former NPA presidential candidate; Paul B. Preciado, philosopher; Eddy de Pretto, singer; Charlie Rano, actress and director; Giovanna Rincon, director of Acceptess-T; Élisa Rojas, lawyer and activist; Mathieu Rigouste, Social scientist; Marina Rollman, humorist; Sandrine Rousseau, EELV MP; Olivia Ruiz, singer; Tahnee, lesbian Afro-feminist comedian; Maud-Yeuse Thomas, co-founder Observatory of Transidentities; Assa Traoré, anti-racist activist; Valérie Rey-Robert, author and feminist; Fiona Schmidt, author and feminist activist; Danielle Simonnet, LFI MP for Paris; Marie Slavicek, journalist at Le Monde; Kiddy Smile, artist; Saïdou, artist (Sidi Wacho); Shirley Souagnon, comedian; Louis-Georges Tin, founder of the World Day against Homophobia, Homophobia, and Transphobia; Usul, videographer and streamer; Mélanie Vogel, Senator EELV; Rebeka Warrior, artist; Dr. Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, CALEM Institute (Marseille).

Associations
Acceptess-T; Act-Up Paris; AIDES; Bi'Cause; CIA – Intersex Activist Collective; Collectives of Femicide Collages Paris; Feminicide Coordination; The national coordination of the collective #NousToutes (All of US); David & Jonathan; EFiGiES – students, doctoral students and young researchers in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Red Umbrella Federation; Fransgendre; Inter-LGBT; Lesbian Liberation; MAG Young LGBT+; Organisation of Trans Solidarity; West Trans; OUTrans; Family Planning; Pride of the Suburbs; The Trans Health Network; RITA ; Les Séropotes; SOS Homophia; Toutes des femmes.

Media, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses Éditions Cases Rebelles; Éditions Hors d’atteinte; Éditions Les Grillages, maison d’édition trans et féministe; Éditions Libertalia; Friction Magazine; Revue GLAD! (review on language, gendre and sexualités); Gusoma, media afro-LGBT; Madame Rap, the first media dedicated to women and LGBT+ in rap; Manifesto XXI, média; PD La Revue; Revue Trou Noir; Women Who Do Stuff.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ”.

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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.

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