Published: Friday 9 November 2012
Published: Thursday 11 October 2012
If a company as massive as Walmart is forced to change its labor practices, the ripples will be felt far and wide.

 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone talking about Walmart’s low, low prices with the dollar signs almost visibly flashing in their otherwise vacant eyes. But what are we really talking about here? Do you ever get something for nothing? Walmart executives will say that since the company is so big it enjoys an economy of scale and can pass low prices on to consumers. But those low prices also depend on the company’s willingness to squash competition, neglect reasonable labor practices, destroy communities, purchase political favors and entrap people desperate for a job into pay insufficient for any real quality of life.

That’s why striking workers will pay a visit to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas today to put the corporate behemoth on notice. Unless demands are met for better working conditions — including an end to illegal retribution against organizers — Walmarts around the country should be prepared for bold actions and work disruptions on Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year. Yesterday, Walmart workers walked off the job at 28 stores in 12 states, making it already much more widespread than the only other strike in the company’s history, in 2006. As someone helping to support the campaigns through community organizing and online tools, I’ve found their boldness and tenacity nothing short of inspirational.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the world, the largest retailer in the world and the largest single employer in the United States. Although it has a “buy American” campaign, ...

Published: Sunday 7 October 2012
Published: Wednesday 19 September 2012
“The young family – who lost legal status some months ago after withdrawing their asylum application to Greek authorities in exchange for a return ticket to Afghanistan – embody the predicament faced by many migrants caught in a rising wave of xenophobia.”

Panahi Gholamhousein (22), an Afghan refugee who spends his days in a room that is barely five square metres with his wife Zarmina (18) and their 19-month-old daughter Zahra, has hardly left his place in downtown Athens since he was beaten up and robbed nearly a month ago.

The four attackers “unleashed their dogs on me”, he told IPS. The incident shook him badly, confining him to an apartment shared with many other irregular migrants living in squalid conditions.

The young family – who lost legal status some months ago after withdrawing their asylum application to Greek authorities in exchange for a return ticket to Afghanistan – embody the predicament faced by many migrants caught in a rising wave of xenophobia.

The last three years have seen racist attacks dominating the streets of Athens, spreading fast throughout the country.

Some experts blame the situation on the social stress caused by an extended period of economic austerity – unemployment rates are fast approaching 30 percent and approximately 25 percent of the Greek population now lives below the poverty line.

Last Saturday at 2 a.m. a group of three unidentified assailants used an incendiary explosive device in an attempt to burn Pakistani immigrants alive in their home while they slept.

Navit Navaz was awakened by an explosion from a flaming bottle of gasoline that landed on the edge of the bed. Navaz was subsequently brought to Thriasio Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit with severe burns on his back and hands.

Two months ago Human Rights Watch ...

Published: Friday 17 August 2012
There was no official ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate construction at the pipeline’s staging area last week—in fact, TransCanada’s careful PR control and political pressures led to a virtual media blackout on the subject.

 

TransCanada broke ground last week on the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, bucking more than four years of intense opposition to the project from farmers, ranchers and local communities representing thousands of people affected across Texas and Oklahoma.

There was no official ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate construction at the pipeline’s staging area last week—in fact, TransCanada’s careful PR control and political pressures led to a virtual media blackout on the subject.

Instead, members of the Tar Sands Blockade a broad affiliation of activists opposing the project, traveled Thursday seven miles west of Paris, Texas, to christen the construction site in their own way: with a day of defiance, and the promise of rolling actions for as long as the pipeline plan proceeds.

“TransCanada is putting families that wanted nothing to do with this pipeline in harm’s way,” says blockade organizer Ron Seifert. “Since our leaders and representatives will do nothing to protect our friends and neighbors, the Tar Sands Blockade is calling for people everywhere to join us and defend our local communities from a multinational bully.”

Plans to integrate the proposed Gulf Coast Segment with the existing Keystone System would allow extractors in Canada to send a toxic tar sands slurry to the export market on the Gulf Coast. Creating minimal short-term construction jobs, the expansion of the oil industry will pad the pockets of Gulf Coast refineries—which operate in a foreign trade zone that evades state and federal taxes—while endangering the health and livelihoods of hundreds of communities between Cushing, Okla., and Port ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
“From Picasso’s “Guernica” to Luis Iriondo Aurtenetxea’s self-portrait with his mother, to the efforts of Oier Plaza and his young friends, the power of art to turn swords into plowshares, to resist war, is perennially renewed.”

Seventy-five years ago, the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed into rubble. The brutal act propelled one of the world’s greatest artists into a three-week painting frenzy. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” starkly depicts the horrors of war, etched into the faces of the people and the animals on the 20-by-30-foot canvas. It would not prove to be the worst attack during the Spanish Civil War, but it became the most famous, through the power of art. The impact of the thousands of bombs dropped on Guernica, of the aircraft machine guns strafing civilians trying to flee the inferno, is still felt to this day—by the elderly survivors, who will eagerly share their vivid memories, as well as by Guernica’s youth, who are struggling to forge a future for their town out of its painful history.

The German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion did the bombing at the request of Gen. Francisco Franco, who led a military rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected government. Franco enlisted the help of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, who were eager to practice modern techniques of warfare on the defenseless citizens of Spain. The bombing of Guernica was the first complete destruction by aerial bombardment of a civilian city in European history. While homes and shops were destroyed, several arms-manufacturing facilities, along with a key bridge and the rail line, were left intact.

Spry and alert at 89, Luis Iriondo Aurtenetxea sat down with me in the offices of Gernika Gogoratuz, which means “Remembering Gernika” in the Basque language. Basque is an ancient language and is ...

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012
“I suspect that the hundreds of thousands of Parisian ‘partisans’ who poured into the streets around the Bastille on learning of Hollande’s victory would not consider their victory ‘brutal’ for France.”

Reading, watching and listening to the mainstream media in America, it gets harder and harder to tell the difference between journalism and rank propaganda. Consider the coverage of the French parliamentary election currently underway.

Most Americans who read newspapers probably learned about this via the Associated Press report that went out on the weekend for Monday’s papers (AP is the de facto “foreign correspondent” for almost every newspaper in America now that all but a few papers have eliminated their foreign reporting staffs). It stated that recently elected Socialist President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party “stands positioned to take control of the lower house of parliament.”

Okay so far, right? But then the reporter, Elaine Ganley, who may well have been writing from the US given that the article, as it appeared in my paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, didn’t carry a Paris dateline, or indeed any dateline at all, went on to say “...so he can revamp a country his partisans see as too capitalist for the French.

Ganley went on to warn readers that “A leftist victory in the voting, five weeks after Hollande took office, would brutally jar the French political landscape.”

Whoa! Last time I looked, “brutally” was a word reserved for nasty over-the-top abusive behavior.

I suspect that the hundreds of thousands of Parisian “partisans” who poured into the streets around the Bastille on learning of Hollande’s victory would not consider their victory “brutal” for France. In fact, if anything, they would probably say that the experience of several years of austerity and a raising of the French retirement age by the ousted conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy was what was brutal.

Would Ganley have written that the election of conservative Jacques Chirac as president following the second and final term of ...

Published: Tuesday 24 April 2012
The longer the political elite ignore the breakdown of globalization, refuse to respond rationally to the climate crisis and continue to serve the iron tyranny of global finance, the more it will shred the possibility of political consensus, erode the effectiveness of our political institutions and empower right-wing extremists.

I went to Lille in northern France a few days before the first round of the French presidential election to attend a rally held by the socialist candidate Francois Hollande. It was a depressing experience. Thunderous music pulsated through the ugly and poorly heated Zenith convention hall a few blocks from the city center. The rhetoric was as empty and cliché-driven as an American campaign event. Words like “destiny,” “progress” and “change” were thrown about by Hollande, who looks like an accountant and made oratorical flourishes and frenetic arm gestures that seemed calculated to evoke the last socialist French president, Francois Mitterrand. There was the singing of “La Marseillaise” when it was over. There was a lot of red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag. There was the final shout of “Vive la France!” I could, with a few alterations, have been at a football rally in Amarillo, Texas. I had hoped for a little more gravitas. But as the French cultural critic Guy Debord astutely grasped, politics, even allegedly radical politics, has become a hollow spectacle. Quel dommage.

The emptying of content in political discourse in an age as precarious and volatile as ours will have very dangerous consequences. The longer the political elite—whether in Washington or Paris, whether socialist or right-wing, whether Democrat or Republican—ignore the breakdown of globalization, refuse to respond rationally to the climate crisis and continue to serve the iron tyranny of global finance, the more it will shred the possibility of political consensus, erode the effectiveness of our political institutions and empower right-wing extremists. The discontent ...

Published: Tuesday 31 January 2012
“Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries.”

What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

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Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
The three men are Nizar Sassi, now 31, Mourad Benchellali, now 30, and Khaled Ben Mustapha, now 40.

A French judge is seeking U.S. permission to visit the prison camps here to investigate claims by former French inmates that they were tortured, the Associated Press reported from Paris on Tuesday.

The AP reported that it saw a formal international request from investigating judge Sophie Clement to U.S. authorities to see the prison here that Tuesday held 171 captives, none of them French citizens. Clement also seeks copies of all documents relating to the arrest and transfer of three Frenchmen who were held there.

The three men are Nizar Sassi, now 31, Mourad Benchellali, now 30, and Khaled Ben Mustapha, now 40. They were arrested on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in late 2001 and transferred to Guantánamo. They were sent back to France in 2004 and 2005, held for a time for trial there, but then released.

The men told the judge during questioning in France that they were subject to violence including torture and rape during their detention.

At Guantánamo, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said it was not immediately known whether U.S. officials had received the request.

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Published: Friday 11 November 2011
“From Tunis to Tel Aviv, Madrid to Oakland, a new generation of youth activists is challenging the neoliberal state that has dominated the world ever since the Cold War ended.”

From Tunis to Tel Aviv, Madrid to Oakland, a new generation of youth activists is challenging the neoliberal state that has dominated the world ever since the Cold War ended.  The massive popular protests that shook the globe this year have much in common, though most of the reporting on them in the mainstream media has obscured the similarities.   

Whether in Egypt or the United States, young rebels are reacting to a single stunning worldwide development: the extreme concentration of wealth in a few hands thanks to neoliberal policies of deregulation and union busting.  They have taken to the streets, parks, plazas, and squares to protest against the resulting corruption, the way politicians can be bought and sold, and the impunity of the white-collar criminals who have run riot in societies everywhere.  They are objecting to high rates of unemployment, reduced social services, blighted futures, and above all the substitution of the market for all other values as the matrix of human ethics and life.

Pasha the Tiger

In the “glorious thirty years” after World War II, North America and Western Europe achieved remarkable rates of economic growth and relatively low levels of inequality for capitalist societies, while instituting a broad range of benefits for workers, students, and retirees.  From roughly 1980 on, however, the neoliberal movement, rooted in the laissez-faire ...

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