Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

The two month long jute workers’ strike in West Bengal: hopes and despair

Sushovan Dhar

Jute mill workers in West Bengal called off their indefinite strike after signing a tri-partite agreement in the presence of the minister in charge of the labour department at Kolkata on February 13, 2009.

It was agreed that the arrears in dearness allowance (DA) would be settled in six installments spread over three years. There were about 627 points arrears in DA of which 277 points will be settled immediately and the remaining 350 points will be done in five installments. Regarding payment of future dearness allowance, 169 points of DA at the rate of Rs 1.90 would be paid effective February 1, 2010 and the future DA on a quarterly basis henceforth. A wage hike for new entrants has also been agreed upon. Earlier, the entry-level wage was fixed at Rs 100 a day but now it has been increased to Rs 157 per day. The tri-partite agreement would be effective from the next day.
Almost 2, 50,000 workers employed in around 50 jute mills in West Bengal went on an indefinite strike from December 14, 2009 called to press for pay-related demands, especially implementation of settlements arrived at in 2001.
All central unions except the Trinamool Congress affiliated INTTUC have responded to the call for the strike. Hence, two jute mills – Meghna and New Central – were operational while fifty-two others are closed.

There was a series of meetings which took place in the period; however, none could find out a solution due to the adamancy of the jute mill owners. Earlier, the tripartite meeting between the West Bengal Labour Minister, jute mill owners and labour unions held on Sunday January 31, 2010 remained inconclusive, leading to the continuation of the strike in jute mills. According to trade unions several rounds of tripartite meetings had failed to evoke any response as the management and jute mill workers have been unable to reach an accord. The meetings remained inconclusive as the mill owners were not ready to agree to the demands regarding the payment of dearness allowance. The workers were demanding full and final settlement of their dues and were not ready for any ad-hoc settlement. The mill workers have been pressing for long their demands for job security and payment of arrears in dearness allowance and removal of anomalies in payments of provident fund, gratuity and bonus.

In this context, it is important to point out that the jute industry which declined in the 1980s has shown potentials & signs of a fresh revival in the 1990s. Jute is grown in the very state, i.e. the raw material necessary for this industry is conveniently at hand. Almost two hundred and fifty thousand workers are engaged in the industry; almost 5 million peasants are in the cultivation of jute and over 4.5 million people are involved in the jute trade in some manner or the other in India. The yearly turnover of this industry is nearly Rupees 5,000 crore (50 billion). In the last few years both production and productivity has shot up very high. In the wake of global environmental concerns the demand of jute has gone up coming as a shot in the arm for the ailing jute industry in West Bengal. Not only used for packaging, mainly in the sugar and cement industries, there is a growing popularity of designer bags, wall-hangings, jute paintings, shoes, textiles and even jewelry, jute is in fact rapidly emerging as a reusable & bio-degradable alternative for the environment conscious citizens.
With several Indian states banning use of polythene bags as a measure to protect the environment, jute has got a new lease of life in the carter segment alone in the form of clutch bags, party bags, laundry bags, rucksacks, gunny bags, totes, shopping bags and wine bags. Besides, a variety of exquisitely designed, painstakingly created handicraft and utility items are on display at various shops selling jute goods. Even, voguish stores like Fabindia and Anokhi are also stocking jute items of various hues nowadays. Industry sources say that jute has bright prospects. Formerly, exports were limited to sacks, to the tune of Rupees 800-900 crore (8-9 billion) annually, but in the decade, the export amount has risen to Rs 1200 crore (12 billion). The export share of diversified products has risen from 18-36 % in the last five years.

India is the world’s largest jute producer, accounting for two-thirds of the global jute production exporting to the US, Europe and Gulf countries.  It has been averaging a production of 1.6 million tones annually in the last five years with a domestic market of 1.4 million tones.

India has launched the Jute Technology Mission and the next two years will be significant. If jute products are marketed ably at home and abroad, the Indian jute industry has the potential to double the current turnover of Rs. 5,000 crore, according to Atri Bhattacharya, Secretary of the Jute Manufactures Development Corporation and also the Executive Director, National Centre for Jute Diversification.

However, even with the rise of production the number of workers in the industry kept falling. There are reports that in the in the jute industry, workers are being forced to work at the rate of Rs. 40 to Rs. 100 per day. This is done by various skilful maneuverings by the owners, categorising the workers as ‘bhaga’, ‘voucher’, ‘zero number’ ‘temporary’, ‘apprentices’ etc. The normal wage of a jute worker is, at present, above Rs. 250 per day. The mill owners thus amass amazing profits by underpaying the workers. It is atrocious that this anti-worker practice of the jute barons has been legalized by the left front government of West Bengal.
Two sections of a previous tri-partite agreement reached on January 5, 2002 between the unions, the owners and the government will serve to illustrate the fact:

(iii) ‘that the question of productivity-linked wages has been discussed with the parties in details. After discussion it is however agreed that for this purpose 33.33% of the total wages payable in a month will be linked to production which may be adjusted proportionally for non-fulfilment of the prevailing agreed norms of production in each mill.

(iv) That the wages at new entrants such as workmen who are paid through vouchers engaged popularly known as zero number other than retired person or who are paid less wages than the rate payable as per industry wise wage settlement etc., and whose names are not borne on the master rolls of workers of mill who are paid wages as per industry wise settlement will get a sum of Rs. 100/- per day as wages plus usual fringe benefit thereon.’

These two sections make it amply clear that this agreement has introduced the production linked wage system and also legalized the long practiced acts of the mill owners of compelling the jute workers to accept Rs. 100 as a wage by branding them with new names and categories. As a matter of fact, the jute mill owners in West Bengal have implemented a series of attacks on workers for a long time. It is done through freezing of workers’ dearness allowance, failure to make gratuity payments and stopping several bonuses. And, the worst of it is through declaring lock-outs compelling workers to dire situations and eventually obliging them to adverse work-contracts, either through agreements or otherwise. Even those agreements reached with the owners having an upper-hand are rarely honored by perpetrators themselves. It is in this light that one finds the commitment of Gobinda Guha, General Secretary, Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Union specifically unpleasant. After the conclusion of the agreement, he said that since most of the demands have been considered and they have signed an agreement, there will be no strike for the next three years. It is impractical to believe that he is ignorant about the situation and that he doesn’t understand the fact that the onus of the recourse to strike does not solely depend on the workers, but primarily, on the jute mill owners.  It is basically that Guha as a faithful member of the CPI (M), the ruling party - whose interest is largely intertwined with the jute mill owners - has more responsibility towards his bosses in keeping the system running rather than upholding the interest of thousands of workers whose union he leads. Indeed, no review of the condition of jute workers can be complete without assessing sufficiently the role of bureaucratic and degenerated trade-unions which has quasi-total membership of the jute mill workers.

Workers in West Bengal’s jute industry have repeatedly been forced on strike over the past decade, including in 2002, 2004, and for 63 days in 2007 and 18 days in 2008. Indeed, both history and experience shows that struggle is the only option left to them. It is essential to have the workers of the other sectors to stand solidly besides the jute workers to make their struggle victorious. Also, the accomplishments would largely depend on the capacity of the workers to form their self-organisation, unions controlled by them and lead independent struggle as happened during the historic Kanoria workers’ struggle in 1993-94. The hope is in the struggle!

Support the Contract Workers' struggle for living wages and tolerable working conditions

The Telegraph, one of the principal mouthpieces of the ruling class of India, of its imperialist allies, and a newspaper that functions more like an ad agency (witness the way it “covered” the launch of the i-pod Nano, and more recently, the i-Pad), ran news items on the strike of 12t February 2010 that are worth looking at, if only in order to understand the mind of the ruling class. The Metro page had a headline: Citu strikes at supply line - Day of disruption with strategic stops.

The news item was about how terrible was the plight of ordinary people, like the young professional who had to borrow money from friends because ATMs were closed, or the Salt Lake tech firm employees who had to go out and buy food as food and water supplies were affected, just because the Centre of Indian Trades Union was flexing its muscles.

A  strike that covered 2.5 million contract workers was, from the point of view of the ruling class, nothing but trade union bureaucrats flexing their muscles. A look at the basic demands will however give us a better idea of what it was all about.

1.    The government must ensure payment of the statutory minimum wages to all workers.
2.    The minimum wage must be increased to Rs.260 per day.
3.    Minimum wages must be amended every 4 years and dearness allowance must accurately reflect price rise.
4.    All workers in the unorganised sector must be given identity cards, pay slips and proof of attendance.
5.    All agents and labour contractors must be licensed before they are allowed to take migratory workers out for work.
6.    All unorganised sector workers must be covered under social security legislation and their inclusion in the BPL list must be made compulsory.
7.    Under NREGA, 100 days of work must be provided to all workers under NREGA.
8.    Contact workers must be made permanent and   be given equal wages for equal work.
9.    Men and women must receive equal wages for equal work.
10.    Legal action must be taken against dishonest labour exploitation and existing labour laws must be implemented properly.

So what do these demands tell us? The first three demands make it clear that these are people who live in below subsistence level. They want an increase of minimum wages to Rs. 260 per day, i.e., Rs. 1560 per week for six working days a week. At current rates, a room in a slum without water and with common toilets, in Calcutta, can cost Rs. 600 to 800, plus separate electricity charges if provided. A kilo of very ordinary rice costs about  Rs. 18, and a family of five consumes about 25 kilogrammes a month. A kilo of cheaper varieties of fish like tilapiya costs Rs 70-80, making that the cheapest animal protein after eggs at Rs40 per dozen, against pulses shooting up to Rs. 100 and more . Schooling is a big expense, since private tuitions are a must in the education system of the present. In other words, if the minimum daily wage was raised to Rs 260, a family of five would barely keep its collective nose above the waters in times of good health. In times of illness, one illness, say one appendicitis operation, could take away the savings of a decade for such a family.
Demand 9 tells us that regardless of anything the Constitution of India may say, women workers still get wages lower than those paid to men. So the assumption continues to be, that women merely earn additional money, their incomes are less central to the family than men’s income, and so they can be paid less even though they might be doing the same job.

Demands 4, 5 and 8 deal with their conditions as contract workers.  Contract workers are hired through agencies who routinely steal part of the money due to them. Lacking proper identity cards, they are often unable to protest. Let us look, not just at the lowest rungs, but even higher rungs of contract workers to show the massive disparities. College teachers all over India have received news of their new pay scale, and in many provinces, including West Bengal, they have received the pay scale or a close approximation in the form of Interim Relief. They are now placed in Pay Band 3 (for Assistant Professors, Assistant Professors Senior Scale and Assistant Professors Selection Grade and Associate Professors of up to three years’ seniority), and Pay Band 4 (for Assistant Professors Selection Grade and Associate Professors of above three years’ seniority). What it means is that an Associate Professor of above three years service in that grade will be now taking home, in West Bengal, after taxes, around fifty thousand rupees per month. Against that, there are the contract teachers. They take about the same number of classes, perform other duties such as correcting answer scripts, take their turn as invigilators, and the rest. The official government rate for them is Rs 7000 to Rs 10,000, depending on the number of years of experience. In reality they are paid around Rs. 2000 to Rs. 4000 per month – i.e., less than what the demand of the strikers of February 12 was. We make this point, not to argue that college teachers who hold secure jobs are overpaid, though we have no doubt that The Telegraph’s sister paper, Ananda Bazar Patrika, would make such a point (as it has done, ad nauseum, over the last decade and a half, whatever they are paid). We make the point, rather, that capitalism is trying to turn every kind of salaried job insecure, tremendously exploitative, underpaid.

This is not surprising. Neither the 8 hour day, nor the minimum wage, was a gift from above. In every country were any variant of these have been given to the working class, they were wrested after bitter ad bloody battles. For capital, the reserve army of labour, with which it fights to push down wages to subsistence levels, and to redefine subsistence to levels unthinkable, is not an abstraction. When the ruling class and its hired intellectuals argue that the free market is essential, when they assert that without it jobs would not be created, they are concealing the reality. Jobs can be created in more meaningful ways. If ATMs have to be kept open for 24 hours, 365 days a year, there is a need to hire full time workers who will work for 8 hours a day and get a certain number of days off in a year. So if the country, that great abstraction, truly needs say 100,000 ATMs, well over 300,000 full-time jobs should be created. Instead of creating two categories of workers, one of whom (including children whose labour is hugely exploited even though formally it is illegal) are so ill-paid that they are held up as a threat to the other, relatively well-paid sector to blackmail them into accepting cutbacks or at the least not agitate for more wages or benefits, we need to see a country where every adult is gainfully employed and every child is able to attend school without the burden of work, and with sufficient food as well as the necessary educational material. Such an economy, however, cannot be to the liking of the rulers and their hangers on. In a society where everyone worked for fixed hours and for decent wages, the rate of profit would go for a toss. If every adult was gainfully employed, then the lever which could be used to depress wages and increase working hours would be much weakened.
Above all, it is the collective power of the working class that threatens the owners. This is what they cannot stand. When they and their hacks wrte that a trade union was “flexing its muscles” one can almost hear the teeth of the bosses grinding. Instead of humbly begging individually for a little more, workers have dared to band together in an organization of their own class, and have shown what determined class action can do. And so, the goal of the capitalist class s to ridicule the union, to show the strike, not as a class struggle, but as union bosses flexing their muscles.

We salute the struggling workers and stand by their side and wish their struggle every possible victory. In this context, it is important to note that the casualisation of labour wrought by neo-liberal economic and political practices have played havoc in the lives and the livelihoods of billions of workers in this planet. Like any part of the globe, the conditions of toilers are pathetic in the state of West Bengal. With the recent price rise and inflation their situation is far more precarious than any other sector. It is appalling to note that a state which has a “left” and “progressive” government for more than the last three decades present such a deplorable condition of the unorganised sector workers. Not only are wages abysmally low, the situation is as well being exacerbated by non-implementation of labour laws, as well as the lack of provision for punishment of erring employers in the law. If we have any criticism of the CITU, it is that in its fixation about saving the Left Front government from alleged conspiracies, t has not fought in a much more sustained manner, and it has soft-pedalled cases where the state government is responsible for contract labour and outsourcing. The fact that one demand calls for fulfilling the NREGA is a telling commentary on how the West Bengal government s working in the interests of the toilers.

Time to Honour the Deal? People on Guard Against the Betrayal

Mihir Bhonsale

Not long ago did Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India sign the infamous Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal, amidst a furore from the Indian Left over India’s strategic alliance of the U.S. The truce was sheepishly made ignoring the vast majority of the dissenting voices to the Deal which eventually went un-represented. Madban and Haripur with Koodamcolum and Jadugauda, today, have become metaphors of the betrayal which the Indian state has inflicted on its masses.

Madban, a village on the Western Coast and in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra on 22nd January 2010 became a site of protest and action against the Jaitapur Power Project of 10,000 MW capacity, a joint-initiative of the French Nuclear Corporation, Areva and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) NPCIL. Residents of Madban are hell-bent on resisting the project. Pravin Gavankar of the Jaitapur-Madban Anu Urja Virodhi Samiti and a project-affected said, ‘we are betrayed by the state administration’. ‘Our protest against the forcible land acquisition drive of the state administration for the Project, remains un-heeded to. ‘The state administration has deceived us every-time we have registered our resolve to not give up our land for the project.’ According to declared official sources around 938 heactres of land is required for the Jaitapur Nuclear Project. The distribution of cheques of compensation in lieu of the land was to be done on three days, 29th of December 2009, 12th January 2010 and 22nd January 2010. Till now not a single resident of Madban has accepted compensation for land from the State administration. Pravin Gavankar said that ‘on 22nd January, the police brutally lathi-charged us when the residents of Madban, protested against the Jaitapur Nuclear Project with Black Flags, saying “No” to the Nuclear Power Project.’ 1500 villagers had assembled to register their protest against the project.

Rambhau Patil, Acting General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), noted, ‘the state administration has furthered the project ignoring the Panchayat’s strict refusal to implementation of the project in Madban.’ He also noted that the Fisher-folk of the coastal Maharashtra are with the Madban Anu Urja Virodhi Samiti in detesting the un-democratic crushing of the people’s movement against the Nuclear Power Plant.

The Konkan region where the Madban is located, in the last decade or so has seen a number of development projects which has made the vast majority of local people suffer reflected from the move to form the Kokan Vinashkari Prakalpa Virodhi Samiti, which is a network of individuals and organizations resisting, the implementation of projects adversely affecting the majority people’s interests. Also, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur have become centers of civil society demonstrations condemning the state for trying to implement the Nuclear Power Project.   
The Konkan Vinashkari Prakalpa Virodhi Samiti has already begun a march in solidarity of the protesting Madban villagers. The Republican Party of India (Rashtriya Lokshahi Agahadi) will also hold a dharna on the 2nd of February 2010 to protest against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project. When all heaven is let lose because of the Indian state’s betrayal, it has for the Madbanites, it becomes every citizen’s responsibility to voice themselves to salvage the people out of this man-made disaster named ‘Power’.

The U.S. and its unruly Latin American 'backyard'

Éric Toussaint1

U.S. aggressiveness towards the Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Ecuadorian governments has increased in response to diminishing U.S. influence over the Latin American and Caribbean area, which Washington has been blaming on Hugo Chávez in particular (and also on Cuba, but Cuba is a much older story).

Several examples illustrate the United States’ waning control

During the negotiations that followed Colombia’s attack on Ecuador on 1 March 2008,2 instead of appealing to the Organization of American States (OAS) of which the United States is a member and which is headquartered in Washington, the Latin American presidents held a meeting in Santo Domingo, within the framework of the Rio Group,3 without inviting their great neighbour from the North, and clearly laid the blame on Colombia, a U.S. ally. In 2008, Honduras -- traditionally and wholly subordinated to U.S. policy-- joined Petrocaribe, which was created on the initiative of Venezuela to provide oil to the non-exporting countries in the region at a lower price than that practised on the world market. Honduras also joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), another initiative for regional integration launched by Venezuela and Cuba. In December 2008, another important summit took place bringing together most of the Latin American presidents in Salvador de Bahía, with the noteworthy presence of the Cuban Head of State, Raúl Castro, next to whom was seated the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, who until recently had adopted a hostile attitude towards Cuba, to keep in line with the directives from Washington. A few months later, the OAS decided, in spite of U.S. opposition, to reintegrate Cuba, which had been excluded in 1964. In 2009, Ecuador also joined ALBA, and terminated the U.S. army’s lease of the Manta air base.

Washington has systematically attempted to thwart the shift towards the left

As the following examples illustrate, since the beginning of the 2000s Washington has systematically attempted to thwart the shift towards the left made by the peoples of Latin America: supporting the coup d'Etat against Chávez in April 2002, offering massive financial support to the anti-Chávez opposition movement, supporting the Venezuelan bosses’ strike from December 2002 to January 2003, the active intervention of the U.S. ambassador in Bolivia to prevent the election of Evo Morales, the World Bank's remote control intervention in Ecuador in 2005 to obtain the resignation of Rafael Correa, who was then the Minister of Economy and Finance, the organization of joint military operations in the Southern Cone,4 the resurrection of the Fourth Fleet,5 and a very significant increase in military aid to its Colombian ally, which serves as a bridgehead in the Andean region. In addition, to overcome the failure of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) in November 2005, Washington has been negotiating and/or signing as many bilateral free trade agreements as possible (with Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica).

Coup d'Etat in Honduras

U.S. aggressiveness towards what it sees as a dangerous “Chavist contagion” in Latin America went up another notch in June-July 2009 with the military coup d'Etat in Honduras, which overthrew the liberal president Manuel Zelaya just as he was calling for a referendum on the election of a constituent assembly by universal suffrage. The Pentagon had resented this shift to the left by a president it thought would behave obediently because Honduras is one of its subordinate countries in the region. If a constituent assembly had been elected by universal suffrage, it would have inevitably had to rule on the demand for agrarian reform, which would have called into question the enormous privileges of the major landowners and foreign agri-business transnationals present in the country. It is mainly for this reason that the local capitalist class, a significant number of whom come from the agrarian sector, supported the coup. It is also important to take account of the fact that this capitalist class is a class of compradors who are completely turned towards import-export business and dependent on good relations with the United States. This explains why it supported the signing of a free trade agreement with Washington and was opposed to ALBA. Zelaya’s order for an increase in the minimum wage is also one of the factors that pushed the bosses to plot his overthrow.6 In addition, we know that Zelaya intended to ask Washington to leave the Soto Cano air base located less than 65 miles from the capital so that it could be converted into a civilian airport. Even imagining – which is highly improbable – that the Honduran generals acted on their own initiative in collaboration with the local capitalist class, it is inconceivable that Roberto Micheletti, the puppet president designated by the military and by corporate and liberal party leaders, could have stayed in power if the U.S. government had vigorously opposed it. The U.S. has been training Honduran generals for decades, and has an important military base in Soto Cano (with 500 American soldiers stationed there on a permanent basis); moreover, as Hillary Clinton admitted after the coup, the U.S. has massively funded the opposition to President Zelaya.7 In addition, U.S. transnational companies, particularly in the agri-business sector, are well-established in this country, which they consider to be a banana republic.

The seven U.S. military bases in Colombia

In order to further increase the threat against Venezuela and Ecuador, Washington got President Álvaro Uribe to announce in July 2009 that seven Colombian bases would be handed over to the American army, thereby enabling their fighter aircraft to reach all regions of the South American continent (except Cape Horn).8 It is no coincidence that only a short time separated the military coup in Honduras and the Colombian President’s announcement: Washington was clearly indicating that it wanted to immediately halt the extension of ALBA and nip this 21st century socialism in the bud. It would be irresponsible to underestimate Washington’s capacity to do damage, or the continuity characterizing U.S. foreign policy in spite of the election of Barack Obama and a softer rhetoric. While President Manuel Zelaya, who returned to his country secretly on 21 September 2009, was taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa and the putschists were violently repressing demonstrations by partisans of the constitutional President, closing down opposition media, and on September 27 declaring a 45-day state of siege, all that Lewis Amselem, n°2 representative of Washington at the OAS, had to say was: “Zelaya’s return is irresponsible and foolish.” Meanwhile, for several days Hillary Clinton failed to condemn the extended curfew imposed by Micheletti to prevent people from gathering in front of the Brazilian embassy. The agreement reached on 30 October under the auspices of Washington between representatives of Manuel Zelaya and those of Roberto Micheletti expressly stipulated that the parties undertake not to call either directly or indirectly for the convocation of a constituent assembly or for any consultation of the people (point 2 of the agreement). In addition, it did not explicitly allow for the return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras in order to finish his term (which is due to end in January 2010). Roberto Micheletti and his partisans then decided not to restore the presidency to Zelaya, who then appealed to the population not to participate in the general elections called for 28 November 2009. The main left-wing candidate for the presidency, Carlos Reyes, together with a hundred or so candidates from different parties (including a sector of the liberal party), withdrew his candidature. On 10 November 2009, an embarrassed Washington announced at a meeting of the OAS that it would recognize the results of the elections of 29 November 2009. On the eve of the elections, human rights organizations had recorded the assassination of more than twenty political opposition activists since the coup d’Etat, 211 people injured during the repression, close to 2,000 cases of illegal detention, two attempted kidnappings and 114 political prisoners accused of sedition. Media opposing the coup were either shut down or harassed. The UN, the OAS, the European Union, UNASUR, the member countries of the Rio Group and ALBA had decided not to send observers. Estimates of the number of citizens who did not vote vary, depending on the source. According to the pro-putschist electoral Supreme Tribunal, the percentage of non-voters was 39%, while several independent organizations advance figures between 53% and 78%. In spite of this, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly considered these illegal and fraudulent elections “a necessary and important step forward.”9 Washington recognized the election to the presidency of Porfirio Lobo of the National Party, a hardline representative of the property barons and the political right who organized the coup d’Etat. The U.S. Ambassador in Tegucigalpa declared that the elections were “a great celebration of democracy” and said the U.S. would work with Porfirio Lobo, whose nickname is Pepe. “Pepe Lobo is a man of great political experience”, Ambassador Llorens told HRN radio. “I wish him luck, and the United States will work with him for the good of both our countries. [...] Our relations will be very strong.” While the Honduran parliament decided on 2 December 2009 not to restore President Zelaya to office up to the end of his term on 27 January 2010, Washington continues to support the process put in motion by the putschist government.10 This creates an extremely serious precedent because Washington has repeatedly stated that the ousting of Zelaya definitely constituted a coup d’Etat.11 Supporting an electoral process stemming from a coup d’Etat and working to promote international recognition of both the authorities that perpetrated the coup and those benefiting from it gives clear encouragement to putschist aspirants who choose to rally to the Washington camp. This clearly applies to a large number of right-wing people in Paraguay.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo could be overthrown

In December 2009 the liberal senator Alfredo Luís Jaeggli, chair of the domestic commission and of the budget commission, called President Fernando Lugo to be overthrown, whom he charged with wishing to enforce the Chavist model of 21st century socialism, like Manuel Zelaya. Alfredo Jaeggli, whose party belongs to the current government and represents its main 'support' in parliament, claims that the coup in Honduras was not really a coup. He sees the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, and what has been done by the de facto regime since, as perfectly legal.12 He would like the Paraguayan parliament to initiate a political trial against Fernando Lugo, so as to remove him from his function and replace him with the Republic's Vice-president, namely the right-wing liberal Federico Franco. Senator Jaeggli's complaint has nothing to do with Lugo's moral behaviour, his attack is focused on his political options. He complains that he does not follow the lead of countries that carried out a successful economic reform, such as Chile under Pinochet and Argentina under Carlos Menem.13 Clearly, Honduras can easily become a dangerous precedent as it opens the door to military coups condoned by some state institutions, such as the parliament or the Supreme Court.


In the light of this experience, we can see that the Obama administration is in no hurry to break with the methods used by its predecessors: witness the massive funding of different opposition movements within the context of its policy to “strengthen democracy”,14 the launching of media campaigns to discredit governments that do not share its political agenda (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Manuel Zelaya’s Honduras and so on), maintaining the blockade of Cuba, the support for separatist movements in Bolivia (the media luna and the regional capital, Santa Cruz), in Ecuador (the city of Guayaquil and its province), and in Venezuela (the petroleum state of Zulia, the capital of which is Maracaïbo),15 the support for military attacks, like the one perpetrated by Colombia in Ecuador in March 2008, as well as actions by Colombian or other paramilitary forces in Venezuela.

The recent dispatch of 10,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake, as well as the potential support for a constitutional coup d’Etat planned by some sectors of the Paraguayan right to overthrow President Fernando Lugo in 2010, are among other threats posed by the U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean that should be paid attention to in the coming weeks.  

Translated by Charles La Via and Judith Harris

1. Eric Toussaint, president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, www.cadtm.org ). He is the author of Bank of the South. An Alternative to the IMF-World Bank, VAK, Mumbai, India, 2007; The World Bank, A Critical Primer, Pluto Press, Between The Lines, David Philip, London-Toronto-Cape Town 2008; Your Money or Your Life, The Tyranny of Global Finance, Haymarket, Chicago, 2005.
2. The Colombian army bombed and captured FARC rebels in a guerrilla camp in Ecuadorian territory, killing some twenty people, including civilians. It is important to know that although the Colombian army is extremely strong, it has very little presence on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, a fact that has allowed FARC guerrillas to set up camps there, including one in which Raúl Reyes, one of its main leaders in charge of international relations, was present at the time. Ecuador has regularly criticized Colombia for not providing adequate border control between these two countries.
3. Created in 1986, the Rio Group comprises 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, plus, on a rotating basis, one representative of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
4. Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile
5. A structure created in 1943 to protect ships in the South Atlantic, and abolished in 1950. It officially resumed operations on 1 July 2008.
6. For an in-depth description of the sectors that backed the coup d’Etat, read Decio Machado’s study (in Spanish), which provides a list of the companies and their CEOs that encouraged or actively supported the putschists: “Quiénes apoyan al gobierno ilegítimo de Roberto Micheletti”, http://www.cadtm.org/Quienes-apoyan-al-gobierno
7. Washington had paved the way for a putsch by massively financing the various opposition movements in the context of its policy to “strengthen democracy”. A month before the coup, different organizations, business groups, political parties, high officials of the Catholic church and private media, all opposed to Manuel Zelaya’s policies, grouped together in the coalition called “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras” in order to “reflect on how to put an end to it”.  (www.lefigaro.fr/international/2009/07/07/01003-20090707ARTFIG00310-zelaya-toujours-banni-du-honduras-.php).
The majority of these groups received over US$ 50 million annually from USAID (the US Agency for International Development) and from NED (the National Endowment for Democracy) to “promote democracy” in Honduras. Read “Washington behind the Honduras coup: Here is the evidence”, by Eva Golinger, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14390
8.  Eva Golinger on the website www.centrodealerta.org published two original documents produced by the U.S. Air Force regarding the agreements on the 7 bases concerned. The first document dates from May 2009 (i.e. before the agreement was publicly announced) and stresses the vital importance of one of the 7 bases, observing that it will, among other things, make possible the “full spectrum operations in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability are under constant threat from narcotics-funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-U.S. governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters.” (http://www.centrodealerta.org/documentos_desclasificados/original_in_english_air_for.pdf). Eva Golinger adds the following comment: “It’s not difficult to imagine which governments in South America are considered by Washington to be ‘anti-U.S. governments’. The constant agressive declarations and statements emitted by the State and Defense Departments and the U.S. Congress against Venezuela and Bolivia, and even to some extent Ecuador, are evidence that the ALBA nations are the ones perceived by Washington as a ‘constant threat’. To classify a country as ‘anti-U.S.’ is to consider it an enemy of the United States. In this context, it’s obvious that the military agreement with Colombia is a reaction to a region the U.S. now considers full of ‘enemies’.”   (“Official U.S. Air Force Document Reveals the True Intentions Behind the U.S.-Colombia Military Agreement” http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15951).
9. Quoted by AFP on 30 November 2009: “a necessary and important step forward” http://www.easybourse.com/bourse/actualite/honduran-elections-necessary-and-important-step-767041
10. The right-wing Latin American governments who are allies of Washington (Colombia, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica) do likewise.
11. See also the press conference given by Arturo Valenzuela, n°2 of the State Department for the Western Hemisphere, on 30 November 2009: “…the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup…”  “ … these elections are not elections that were planned by a de facto government at the last minute in order to whitewash their actions.”  “We recognize that there are results in Honduras for this election. That’s quite clear. We recognize those results, and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections.”
Arturo Valenzuela nevertheless sounded clearly embarassed when he declared in the same press conference: “The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’Etat, will be returned to office by the congress on December 2nd, as per the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord. That was the accord that both sides signed at that time.” http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/rm/2009/132777.htm The fact is that 3 days later, the Honduran parliament voted by an overwhelming majority against Zelaya’s return to office, which did not deter Washington from continuing to support the de facto authorities.
12. On 17 December 2009 Alfredo Luís Jaeggli said on the Argentinian public radio: “The Honduran president, assuming the presidency with a liberal model, thereafter betrayed this model and replaced it with the Socialism of the twenty-first century. What happened in Honduras (Jaeggli clearly refers to the 28 June 2009 coup), excuse me, for me it is completely legal. ” An audio  version of the interview can be accessed at http://www.radionacional.com.ar/audios/el-senador-del-partido-liberal-habla-sobre-fernando-lugo-y-los-presuntos-planes-de-derrocamiento-en-paraguay.html
13.  "Paraguay is the only country along with Haiti and Cuba that did not reform in order to modernize. You had your modernization; you know well with the Menem government, what I mean. Brazil also had it, as well as Uruguay, Bolivia, too, but unfortunately they had an involution. Paraguay does not, it is still as if in the 50s ..." "In Chile, (...) do you believe that the socialists in Chile are those who made the economy grow? They have not changed anything, not even the Chilean labour code. The Chilean labour code is still the code implemented by Pinochet!"
14. Eva Golinger explained : “(...) Obama called for an additional $320 million in “democracy promotion” funds for the 2010 budget just for use in Latin America. This is a substantially higher sum than the quantity requested and used in Latin America for “democracy promotion” by the Bush administration in its 8 years of government combined”! http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14390
15. Because of the failure of the mobilizations in the media luna in Bolivia at the end of 2008 and of the right in Guayaquil, Ecuador, led by the city’s mayor Jaime Nebot in September 2008, Washington has put its support on hold but may reactivate it if the context requires and allows it. The same may be said for the right in the state of Zulia in Venezuela.


Pakistan: workers, peasants take lead to revive a political tradition

Abdul Khaliq
Lahore, 2nd February 2010

Despite prevailing fear of everyday explosions and suicide bombings
across Pakistan, over 10,000 power loom workers and peasants braved
their way to Dhobi Ghat ground, Faisalabad on 29th February 2010. Do
doubt a marvelous indicator of their commitment to the working class

Though much bigger gathering was being expected but under the given
scary circumstances, when masses prefer to stay at home, everyone is
gripped by fear of suicide bombings, including mainstream political
parties, which are evasive to come in the open and organize public
gatherings, workers and peasants opted and dared to come out to
register their demands in a powerful way.

In this apolitical atmosphere, they have revived the much needed
tradition of 1970s and 1980s of big political gatherings, when people
use to attend such gathering in huge numbers and sit for hours to
listen their leaders.

Thus the show was successful by many aspects and achieved, to large
extent, its objectives of getting working classes together and closer
at a united platform in order to forge durable future unity. It
conveyed not only strong message of workers-peasants resistance to the
neo-liberal policies of the rulers, but also renewed the hope of
possibility of collective struggle of the progressive forces in

The public meeting, jointly organized by Labor Quami (national)
Movement (LQM) and Anjuman Mzareen (Tenant committee) Punjab (AMP) was
attended by a large number of right-based civil society groups,
movements, alliances, networks, trade unions, left parties, women
groups and addressed by their representatives. International delegates
from Fourth International (Pierre Rousset) and Socialist Alliance
Australia (Simon Butler) also spoke on the occasion and voiced their
solidarity with the workers and peasants of Pakistan.

Following resolutions, comprising just demands of the working classes
of Pakistan was presented, widely circulated and adopted with
thundering claps on the occasion:

·        Government should issue social security cards to all the
workers forth worth and fix minimum wages of workers at Rs. 15000.

·        Go away with anti-labor laws, restricting formation of new
trade unions and stop vindictive actions against the labor leaders.

·        Reinstate forthwith all the workers thrown out of the private
enterprises during Musharraf regime and present PPP government.

·        Increase the number of labor courts through effective
pro-workers reforms in order to provide cheap and speedy justice to
the laborers.

·        Effective measures be taken to end electricity load shedding,
which has crippled the power loom industry, rendering thousands of
workers jobless.

·        Financial packages be announced for small power loom units,
end yarn hoarding to sustain running of power looms and livelihoods of

·        State notification be issued to increase and make wages of
all power loom workers at par across the country.

·        End with contract and daily wages system; regularize all
employees in state and private sector.

·        Labor laws be strictly implemented, a tripartite
(worker-employers-government) conference be called in to devise new
labor policy.

·        End the on-going privatization process of state-owned
enterprises and halt the privatization plan of Pakistan Railways.

·        Women workers be paid equal wages to that of men workers.
Home-based women workers be recognized as workers and counted as
skilled labor force.

·        Legislation be introduced to protect the labor rights of the
informal sector workers, being exploited at the hands of the middlemen
and contractors.

·        Industry status be granted to bangle-making in Hyderabad.

·        Strict implementation of Bonded Labor Act 1992. Bosses be
forced to end advance system, act upon government notification
regarding payment of just wages at brick kiln factories.

·        Stop unlawful cut on pensions of communication pensioners in
Hazara division and ensure repayment of the deductions forthwith.

·        Implement minimum wage law (Rs. 6000) for all the workers
across the country and especially in Hattar industry, Hazara Division.

·         Reinstate all the sacked workers of Mardan Takhtby Sugar mills.

·        Effective, meaningful, radical and doable national level
agriculture reforms be introduced to end feudal system in the country.
All the state owned lands be distributed among landless, local
tenants, small peasants and Haris.  Women be given priority in this

·        Agriculture lands and their occupation be restored to the
tenants of Alipur Chattaha, all illegal cases registered against them
be abolished.

·        Tenants tilling state agriculture lands of military farms and
military welfare trust farms, since decades be given land ownership

·        Seventh wage Board award for journalists be implemented forthwith.

·        Big city allowance for Faisalabad be announced and High Court
Bench in City should be established.

·        Free and quality Education from primary to University level
for all, be announced and at least 10 percent of GDP be fixed for
education sector.

·        Class-based education system be abolished, uniform syllabus
be introduced across the country for all Educational institutes.
Technical and scientific education be declared compulsory.

·        Maximum budget for health, free heath facilities for poor and
housing for the low income groups be announced.

·        A debt audit commission be formed to investigate into all
loan contracts, made with IFIs, sine 1947. Refuse to repay all
illegitimate external debts.

·        Military budget be cut and the amount saved thus be spent on
social sector.

·        Government should announce at least Rs. 10,000 as
unemployment allowance for the unemployed youth.

·        All relevant rules be also introduced for teachers in workers
welfare schools and all employees of workers welfare schools be
considered as employees of welfare board.  Social security scheme and
Old Age Benefits be declared for teachers of these schools

·        Second shift for students be introduced in all the workers
welfare schools, upgrading these schools to the status of higher
secondary schools.

·        US Drone attacks be halt forthwith, massacres of local
innocent population, women and children in the name of war on
terrorism be stopped.

·        Provincial autonomy be ensured per 1973 Constitution and
appropriate measures be taken to end sense of deprivation among
smaller provinces.

·        All out priority-based steps be taken to end discriminatory
laws against women and abolish all sorts of violence against women.
Exchange marriages, karo-kari and other patriarchal traditions be
announced illegal.

·        Rights of Religious minorities, indigenous communities be
strictly protected   and all discriminatory laws, including blasphemy
laws be abolished.

·        Women be given due representation according to their
population in legislative bodies and other institutions at all levels.

·        Local bodies elections be announced forthwith and be held
under the supervision of Election Commission of Pakistan.

·        Emergency measures be taken to arrest price-hike, prices of
petroleum products and daily items be lowered by restoring state
subsidy on the necessary items.

Obituary: Daniel Bensaid

Francois Sabado

Daniel left us today, Tuesday the 12th of January 2010. Born in 1946 he gave his life to the cause of defending revolutionary Marxist ideas right to the end.


He was one of the founders of the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR - Revolutionary Communist Youth) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR - Revolutionary Communist League, French section of the Fourth International)

A leader of the May 68 movement, he was one of those people with a very sure feeling for political initiative. He had been one of the leaders of the 22nd March Movement. Grasping the dynamic of social movements, in particular the link between the student movement and workers’ general strike, he was also one of those who understood the necessity of building a political organisation, of accumulating the forces for building a revolutionary party.

The quality of Daniel’s intelligence was to combine theory and practice, intuition and political understanding, ideas and organisation. He could, at the same time, lead a stewarding force and write a theoretical text.

He was one of those who inspired a fight which combined principles and political boundaries with openness and a rejection of sectarianism. Daniel, his own political convictions deeply rooted in him, was always the first to want to discuss, to try to convince, to exchange opinions, and to renew his own thinking.

As a member of the daily leadership of the LCR from the end of the 1960s to the beginning of the 1990s, he played a decisive role in building a project, an orientation which combined daily activity with a revolutionary outlook. A good part of his theoretical and political work was focused on questions of strategy, and the lessons of the main historical revolutionary experiences.

Daniel was profoundly internationalist. He played a key role in the building of the LCR in the Spanish state in the Franco period. In those years he played a major role within the Fourth International, in particular following closely developments in Latin America and Brazil. He contributed largely to renewing our vision of the world and to preparing us for the upheavals of the end of the 1980s.

From the 1990s until the end, while continuing his political fight he concentrated on theoretical work: the history of political ideas; Marx’s Capital; the balance sheet of the twentieth century and its revolutions, first of all the Russian revolution; ecology; feminism; identities and the Jewish question; developing new policies for the revolutionary left faced with capitalist globalisation. He regularly attended and followed the Social Forum and the global justice movement.

Daniel ensured the historical continuity of open, non-dogmatic, revolutionary Marxism and adaptation to the changes of the new era, with the perspective of revolutionary transformation of society always in his sights.

Although seriously ill he overcame it for years, thinking, writing, working on his ideas, never refusing to travel, to speak at rallies or attend simple meetings. Daniel set himself the task of checking the solidity of our foundations and passing them on to the young generation. He put his heart and all his strength into it. His contributions, at the International Institute in Amsterdam, in the summer universities of the LCR and then of the NPA, at the Fourth International youth camp, made an impact on thousands of comrades. Transmitting the experience of the LCR to the NPA, Daniel decided to accompany the foundation of our new organisation with a relaunch of the reviewContretemps and forming the “Louise Michel” society as a place for discussion and reflection of radical thought.

Daniel was all that. And in addition he was warm and convivial. He loved life.

Although many “68ers” turned their coats and abandoned the ideals of their youth, Daniel abandoned none of them; he didn’t change. He is still with us.

Translated by Penelope Duggan


France A page has been turned (the formation of the NPA)

Daniel Bensaid

We never saw the reference to Trotskyism as a way to shut ourselves off from others. For us, it was more like a polemical challenge. We accepted the Trotskyist tag in our conflict with the Stalinists — but without building a neurotic identity out of it or, conversely, downplaying the importance of this heritage.


We always rejected the simplification that generally accompanies labelling of this sort. We were opposed to reductionist orthodoxies; while we always held Trotsky’s contributions in the highest regard, our political education always sought to nurture the pluralist memory and culture of the working-class movement – by including Luxemburg, Gramsci, Mariategui and Blanqui, but also Labriola, Sorel and the entirety of what Ernst Bloch called the “warm stream of Marxism”. Of course, Trotskyism holds a special place within this heritage that lacks both heirs and an instruction manual. Thanks to the struggle of the Left Opposition and then of the Fourth International against the Stalinist reaction – which cost Trotsky, Nin, Pietro Tresso and many others their lives – the communist project could not be entirely usurped by its bureaucratic impostor.

There are those who seek to put the history of the working-class movement behind us. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, has Trotskyism been deprived of its negative pole and therefore lost its very raison d’être? It is certainly true that present-day divisions within emancipatory movements cannot be conjugated in the past tense.

Controversies that raged until quite recently – such as the one surrounding the precise character of the Soviet Union – are no longer of any practical consequence. In this sense, a page has indeed been turned. It would be reckless, however, to argue that Stalinism has been definitively relegated to the past. Stalinism was a particular historical form of the danger of state bureaucratization that threatens emancipatory movements. Contrary to the hasty claims of some, this danger is not the natural product of “the party form” but rather of the social division of labour in modern societies – and this is something infinitely more serious. This threat will loom large for all forms of organization – whether trade-union, social-movement or party-political – as long as this social division of labour endures.

The specific historical form of Stalinism has died, but the lessons to be drawn from this experience are actually more relevant than ever. It is a matter of ensuring the development of socialist democracy at all levels. These lessons are no longer the exclusive property of organizations from the Trotskyist or council-communist libertarian tradition. They have a much wider base, and this is not something to complain about. When what I have called the “baggage of exodus” becomes a collective asset of the new anti-capitalist Left, it is a kind of posthumous victory for those so badly defeated by the Stalinist counter-revolution. The “short twentieth century” has ended and a new cycle of class struggles is just beginning. Crucial new questions are being raised, beginning with the ecological challenge. It was essential for the LCR to break from routine and take the risk of reaching beyond itself without renouncing its history. The NPA will not define itself as a Trotskyist organization. It will aim to bring together a range of experiences and currents on the basis of the events and tasks of the new period. To go the distance, though, it will need history and memory.

This article originally appeared in the February 5-11, 2009 issue of Politis and can be found on the ESSF website at http://tinyurl.com/yc39nuc.

Translation from French: Nathan Rao