Making American Public Sector Workers Pay Instead of Greedy Corporates

In a bizarre, post-crisis turn of events, public sector activities, in general, and public sector workers, in particular, have become the targets of rightwing attacks in the US. Government spending is unsustainable it is being argued, and therefore, the public sector must be trimmed, by reducing jobs and slashing wages and benefits. It is indeed true that government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen sharply by around seven percentage points from 35 per cent to 42 percent (see Chart). But this occurred during the years after the crisis, when the government was pumping billions of dollars to bail-out the financial system that had speculated its way to failure and the firms that were damaged by the recession that ensued. It was the “subsidy” to capital rather than payments to workers that increased public spending to significantly higher levels.

It is to ostensibly address that problem, that the US House of Representatives recently approved a bill cutting spending this year by $61 billion. But the cuts don’t fall on the rich. Spending cuts, as is well known, fall heavily on social spending for the poor. Reduced social security for the poor and middle classes are the first consequences of austerity. But the impact soon goes further. It begins to adversely affect public sector employment and the benefits accruing to public sector workers.

At the moment, the attacks seem sharper in the states. In Wisconsin, for example, public sector workers are protesting an effort by Republican governor Scott Walker to reduce their benefits and limit their collective bargaining rights. Governor Walker wants workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, to roll back wage increases and limit the length of employment contracts. He also wants to bar most state and local government employees from negotiating on issues like benefits and work conditions. In addition, he is working to weaken unions by requiring them to face an annual vote to retain recognition, while pressuring workers to stop paying union dues and resign from union membership.

The reason for the attack is a budgetary deficit that is projected to touch $3 billion. The argument is that public sector pay and benefits are now way out of line with that in the private sector, necessitating some sacrifice on the part of these workers to redress imbalances in public finances. This is an argument that is being pursued in other states as well: New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana among them. And these states see the standoff between the unions and government in Wisconsin as the test of whether they can get their own public sector workers to accept austerity to resolve at least partly their fiscal problems.

Budgetary shortfalls are not, however, engineered by workers. They reflect the fact that governments have not been able to keep revenues buoyant as expenditures rise. One reason is the increasing reticence of governments to tax their citizens and their proclivity to offer huge tax concessions, especially to the more well to do among them. This inability to get citizens, especially the rich, to finance through taxes the social services and infrastructure they benefit from is one among the many failures inherent in a neoliberal ethos that celebrates the market and the wealth derived by a few from its workings. Seen in that light the attack on public sector workers is not the solution to the public sector crisis, but a way of diverting attention from its real sources and origins.

This reasoning is supported by the fact that judging by relative circumstances, Wisconsin should not be a state that should consider forcing public workers to tighten their belts to resolve the fiscal crisis and release resources to support a recovery. The state’s deficits are nowhere near the top of the league table in the US. Its unemployment rate is, at 7.5 percent, below the national average. And, its pension fund is assessed as being relatively robust. Ideologically, the attack on the public sector in the state of Wisconsin originates elsewhere and not in a fiscal crisis.

The attack on public sector workers is not a marginal issue. Such workers in state and city governments and educational institutions total 19.4 million and account for close to 15 per cent of the workforce in the US. Their significance does not stop here. Over the last four and half decades, the unionised segment of the non-agricultural workforce has collapsed from close to a third to just above 12 per cent. Much of the decline has been in the private sector, which has managed to push workers out of unions. According to figures from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in 2009, the number of unionised public-sector employees (7.9 million) rose above that of private-sector employees (7.4 million), even though public sector workers are a minority even in the non-agricultural sector. Attacking unions in the public sector is, therefore, a larger attack on collective bargaining.

That attack comes at a time when workers are at the losing end of a sharp shift in the distribution of incomes. Workers wages and benefits have stagnated in real terms in the US for a long time now. On the other hand, incomes of the super-rich have exploded. According to University of Massachusetts economists Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thomson, “during the economic expansion and Wall Street bubble years of 2002–07, the average incomes of the richest 1 percent of households rose by about 10 percent per year, more than three times that for all households. The richest 1 percent received fully 65 percent of all household income growth between 2002–07.”

Rather than tax these surpluses at the top of the pyramid to help resolve the crisis, the right has decided to shift attention to a small segment of the workforce they mistakenly claim is pampered. It is indeed true that the public sector is the standard bearer for the terms and conditions that constitute decent work. But that standard is not extravagant. For similar qualifications and experience public sector workers in the US earn less than those in the private sector. And even those terms have not been garnered with ease. Using the unavoidable public accountability of government, to sustain unions in the public sector, has ensured them. That union strength has in turn been used to win and retain better employment terms and conditions.

This points to points to the real factors explaining the effort to bash the public sector and its workers. It is part of an effort to weaken unions and dilute the standards to which private workers would aspire for. This would make stagnant real wages, deteriorating work conditions and high unemployment appear to be the unavoidable lot of the many, who will not have options to turn to and better conditions to look to and aspire for. Even when there is enough money to dole out concessions to the rich.

What is shocking is the context in which this occurs. America’s government has just poured billion of dollars to buy up worthless toxic assets, render banks that speculated their way to near bankruptcy solvent, and offer cheap credit to speculators who put their institutions and the country’s economy at peril, so that they can bounce back to profits and pay themselves big bonuses. The attack on public sector unions is only an effort to cover up these unjustifiable actions.

By CP Chandrashelhar/thehindu.com

Tom Morello Rages Against Anti-Union Bill at Wisconsin Rally, Denounces ‘Mubarak of Midwest’

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello spent Monday at the Wisconsin protests, performing acoustic songs at a rally and delivering a fiery speech to the thousands inside of the capital rotunda who are protesting Governor Walker’s attempt to end the right of state employees to collectively bargain.

“What’s happened so far might be the most inspiring 24 hours of my life as an activist,” Morello tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve never seen this kind of outpouring of unapologetic, steel-backboned support for union causes in the United States. The Madison police were delivering bratwurst to the protesters inside the capitol, and the kids were thanking them. It was unbelievable.”

At a freezing cold rally outside of the capital, Morello was joined by Rise Against frontman Tim Mcilrath, Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Boston folk group Street Dogs. The show mixed classics like Neil Young’s “Ohio,” Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and Morello’s driving acoustic version of Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio.” “No matter what Gov. Walker, the Mubarak of the Midwest, says, this land is your land,” Morello said before singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” “Never give up and never give in!”

If Governor Walker’s bill passes, it would effectively destroy Wisconsin’s civil servant unions; many fear that other Republican-controlled states would attempt to follow suit. “I come from a coal-mining town in central Illinois where everybody was union,” says Morello.

“For almost 30 years, my mom was a public high school teacher in Libertyville, Illinois. I grew up with a firm belief that the leverage we have as working people is through the union. It’s the only counterweight to the raw greed of corporate power. For the past 22 years, I’ve been a union man in L.A. as a member of the Professional Musicians Local 47.”

After the rally, Morello entered the packed Capitol rotunda, which had been occupied for the past week, grabbed a bullhorn, and made one of the most rousing speeches of the day. “This is what they do in times of economic crisis,” Morello said.

“They think people aren’t paying attention, that they can just sneak through this legislation that would rob us of decades, centuries of social progress. We didn’t pick this fight. [Governor Walker] tapped us on the shoulder and said ‘let’s fight.’ And now we’re gonna knock his legislative teeth out.”

Patrick Doyle/Rolling Stone


US Veto: Speaking With Forked-tongue

By Jim Miles

It is common within early U.S. history to describe the communications from the white settlers to the indigenous population as being done with a “forked tongue,” as described clearly by Wikipedia:

The phrase “speaks with a forked tongue” means to say one thing and mean another or, to be hypocritical, or act in a duplicitous manner. In the longstanding tradition of many Native American tribes, “speaking with a forked tongue” has meant lying, and a person was no longer considered worthy of trust, once he had been shown to “speak with a forked tongue”.

The U.S. tradition of speaking with a forked tongue is long and dishonourable, as the actions taken by the U.S. for its imperial and foreign policies are as indicated hypocritical, duplicitous, and untrue.

Today’s vote at the UN continued this manner of dialogue as Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN tries to explain why the U.S. vetoed the UN vote on settlements. Her arguments and reasoning, while rhetorically sounding firm, are at best duplicitous and at worst lying by evasion.

Rice begins saying, “The United States strongly opposed continued Israeli settlement activity so our objection was not on that point.” Okay, so why then over the history of the ongoing settlements has the U.S. not done anything within its power to prevent the settlements. Words are fine, but as the Palestinians have learned on one side of the fence and the Israelis have learned on both sides of the fence, words simply allow more settlements to be built, more Palestinian land to be expropriated.

If the U.S. actually wanted to do something, they could have held back many or all of the billions in dollars of aid that it forwards each year, and could have held back much or most or all of the military equipment and technology it has transferred over each year. Actions like those would speak much louder than words.

Rice continued, “The question for us was would this resolution and its adoption advance that goal of achieving an independent Palestinian state or cause one or both parties to dig in and make it even harder to resume the very necessary process of direct negotiation?” Well, yes, it would as it would signal that perhaps the U.S. is finally reading world opinion more correctly and is at minimum willing to change some of its rhetoric if not its actions.

Two problems remain. First, the Israelis are already dug in, literally, as they have built their settlements, have built their barriers, have built their bypass roads, have built their waterworks and gas lines. They are literally dug into the Palestinian territories, as the Palestinians are slowly being ethnically cleansed from their own land.

Secondly, the “process of direct negotiations” has always been and always will be a failure, as one side with no power of any kind cannot “negotiate” with a side that has all the power, and further has all the complicit and tacit support of the world’s largest and most powerful military and economic empire.

That is sheer and utter hypocrisy – pretending to be good, moral, and ethical, while stealing what one wants – as the U.S. did in its imperial drive against the indigenous peoples of North America and as they continue to do so alongside Israel within the Palestinian territories.

On the limitations of the UN Rice says, “The United Nations cannot create an independent state of Palestine. It won’t happen. It has to be negotiated between the two parties.” This is an interesting statement as it is part of the Israeli narrative of their creation that – apart from biblical claims and following on the Balfour Declaration – the UN “legitimized” Israel when it proposed the UN partition plan.

The UN also created a series of mandates in the Middle East that the world did not seem to have too much trouble with, mainly because they carved the region up for the sake of mainly the British and French imperial interests of the time. There is no reason, other than U.S. obstructionism, that the UN could not make a declaration that there is a state of Palestine in such and such an area.

Many countries of the world, more recently the South American countries, have given recognition to a Palestine using the ‘green line’ of the 1948 war as the border. The green line is an amazing concession of territory on the part of the Palestinians, giving up eighty per cent of their territory for peace and a small remnant of their former territory.

I have already discussed the uselessness of negotiations. In addition to my earlier comments, the recent exposure of the Palestine Papers by al-Jazeera should demonstrate that, yes, there were partners for peace, and even more, partners for capitulation. The Palestinian Authority does not have legitimate authority to negotiate a settlement on behalf of any of the Palestinian people other than its own cronies and quislings attempting to preserve their elite and relatively more powerful and wealthy positions while being subservient to the Israelis.

There is no legitimate authority at the moment to negotiate with – not because there are no “partners for peace” as the Israelis and U.S. have always claimed, but because the Palestinians have not been allowed to create a truly democratic and representative bargaining committee consisting of representatives of the common people of Palestine.

As for the UN declaration, Rice says, “We can have declaration after declaration but at the end of the day they don’t create facts recordon the ground.” Well, truthfully they do, Israeli facts on the ground, as the U.S. provides a smokescreen of useless rhetoric and the lie of neutrality.

Twice Rice phrases a time line during which the U.S. has been “clear” and “consistent” with its comments on the settlements. That much the world knows, and – pardon the constant reiteration (it is what the U.S. is also very good at) – is what allows the settlements to continue unabated.

She says, “The United States has for six administrations been very clear we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. There’s no question about that. We have been clear and unequivocal.” Later she adds, “This is not the view of the Obama administration, this is the view of the United States. We do not and have not for thirty years accepted the legitimacy of Israeli settlement activity.”

This can only be read as that the duplicity, lies, and dishonesty are consistent traits of all U.S. administrations. And even though Obama campaigned on “hope” and “change”, and then made a sort of wonderfully conciliatory speech in Cairo (and the world knows what is happening their and elsewhere in the Arab world) he too has accepted as part of his worldview that speaking with a forked tongue works well in the world of U.S. diplomacy.

When questioned on the difference between “legitimacy” and “legality”, Rice came up with the latter statement above on the thirty years of forked tongue speaking. The reality of international law is that the settlements are illegal, under several sections of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Part of international law, developing from the Nuremberg trials, is that being passive in the face of internationally illegal activities makes a party complicit with the crime.

The U.S. is guilty of international crimes by supporting the Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza both materially and politically, as well as supporting their illegal attacks on Lebanon.

The goal of the U.S. as stated by Rice is laughable, “The goal is to achieve a viable, independent, contiguous, and democratic Palestinian state.” Let’s work backwards on this one. When a democratic vote was taken in Palestine in 2006, Canada (being the first), the U.S., the U.K., the E.U., and other U.S. mercenary states disallowed the vote and took concrete actions, in the form of money transfers and training of the PA authorities militias in security measures that could be used against their own people.

The U.S. plays loose and fancy with democracy, and again recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen among others demonstrates the lie of the U.S. rhetoric on democracy (with U.S. puppet regime of Saudi Arabia remaining silent).

Next, a contiguous state is declared the goal. This in total denial of the hypocrisy, the double standards, the basic ignorant stupidity of all other statements about stopping settlement activity. There is no contiguous state, only a series of cantons or bantustans, or enclaves, perhaps prisons will do. This will not be undone through a series of false front negotiations that the Israelis will gladly continue for the next sixty years as they continue to claim Palestinian land.

Viability and independence are next. Another set of impossibilities for negotiations, and another full on ridiculous statement in light of the so called peace process and its total failure to do anything but create more Israeli inhabited territory.

The U.S. has continually used its forked tongue for its own benefit in any “negotiations” it has carried out. This originated from the first negotiated treaties with the indigenous people of North America – at least those that were not simply outlawed and made subject to massacres and murder without recourse to any law of any kind. It continues today with its UN rhetoric and with its rhetoric about its concerns for Palestine and Israel.

No matter how nice and kind and civilized its word, its actions are illegal under international law, and basically barbaric when it comes to human common sense. As the empire unravels, even with the violence that accompanies that, it will be better than the violence of the forked tongue empire.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

Strikes, Workers’ Protests Spread Throughout Egypt

Large numbers of workers in Egypt’s main cities staged strikes and street demonstrations yesterday for higher wages, better working conditions, and the removal of corrupt managers of state-owned enterprise promoted under former President Hosni Mubarak. The movement of the working class is developing in defiance of the ruling military command, which has stridently demanded an end to all industrial action.

The junta, headed by Mubarak’s henchmen Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, declared an unscheduled public holiday yesterday, apparently in an attempt to defuse the strike wave. The military also declared today a public holiday.

Workers across many industries nevertheless mobilised yesterday, in both the public and private sectors. One BBC journalist commented, “There appears to be a whole series of mini-revolutions going on in the wake of the removal of Mr. Mubarak”.

The Central Bank of Egypt ordered that banks throughout the country be closed because of a strike by workers in the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), the largest state bank. Hundreds of workers demonstrated outside NBE’s headquarters, reportedly demanding that temporary workers be granted permanent positions. “It’s part of the revolution,” the bank’s chairman, Tarek Amer, told the Associated Press. “They believe that it’s an opportunity—if they had any complaints and demands—and that there’s a higher probability of getting them answered.”

Thousands of oil and gas workers employed by several companies are on strike and staged a protest yesterday in the Nasr City district of Cairo, outside the Ministry of Petroleum. According to blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy: “The workers have several economic and political demands, including putting an end to abusive management practices such as sacking workers who speak up for their rights, reinstating the sacked workers, raising salaries that roughly average LE400 [$68], establishing an independent union, impeaching the corrupt oil minister Sameh Fahmy, and stopping gas exports to Israel.”

Also in Cairo, hundreds of public transport workers demanded higher wages outside the state television and radio building. One of the workers, Ahmed Said, who has worked as a driver for 18 years, told the Guardian that more than half of his wages goes toward paying rent and he is forced to feed his family of five on the rest. “There is just enough money for food… If a child goes to the hospital and we have to pay for that, then me and my wife do not have a meal. This is wrong. How can Mubarak be worth so much and we have so little? Before, we had to be careful. We would be arrested. But now we can talk. We need food. We have been on strike four days. The army cannot stop us.”

Hundreds of ambulance paramedics demanding better pay parked about 70 vehicles in a row on a roadside along the Nile River in Giza district. Employees at a key Cairo traffic tunnel threatened to shut down the route if their wages weren’t raised. Several hundred people employed by the state Youth and Sports Organisation also demonstrated in Tahrir Square for improved working conditions.

Among other reported struggles, workers with state airline EgyptAir went on strike at Cairo International Airport and successfully demanded that the company’s head, Alaa Ashour, be removed. About 500 employees of the Opera House have similarly accused the organisation’s chairman of corruption and demanded his removal. Workers with the education ministry in Cairo’s satellite 6th of October City also protested yesterday, demanding higher wages, permanent contracts for temporary workers, and the removal of the ministry director.

The action was supported by several students. Kholoud Abdallah, from a secondary vocational school, told Al Ahram, “We have no books, no computers and we require these for study.”

There were also reports of continued strikes by textile, steel, and post office state workers.

Several hundred people also staged a demonstration outside the Mubarak regime’s official trade union body, the Trade and Workers Federation, demanding that the federation’s board be dissolved. Union bureaucrats inside the building reportedly exchanged volleys of bricks and bottles with demonstrators outside, before they were separated by soldiers.

Outside of Cairo, workers went on strike at the enormous Sukari gold mine, near the southern town of Marsa Alam. Near the Great Pyramids, about 150 tourism industry employees protested for higher wages.

The Associated Press also reported that in Beni Sweif, an impoverished city south of Cairo, “thousands demanded the distribution of promised state-built, low-cost apartments that are often awarded on the basis of nepotism”. Police admitted that local people have occupied 60,000 empty units of such housing in the provinces of Cairo, Beni Sweif and Qalioubiya.

Police officers demanding higher wages staged a provocative demonstration in Tahrir Square yesterday morning. About 2,000 anti-Mubarak protestors held a counter-demonstration against the widely hated police, but Al Jazeera and other media outlets were forbidden from broadcasting any footage from the square. This censorship appears to be part of the military’s effort to remove all the protestors from Tahrir Square and project an image of a return to “normality”.

Another mass rally, however, dubbed a “victory march” has been called for Friday.

The military council issued a statement yesterday demanding an end to the strikes. “Noble Egyptians sees that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative effects such as harming the security of the country which causes disruption in all institutions and facilities of the state,” a military spokesman declared. “[Strikes] negatively affect the ability to provide for the needs of citizens and disrupt the process of production and work in state sectors … and they negatively affect the national economy.”

This statement comes after an army official told Reuters that the military leadership intended to ban union meetings, effectively forbidding strikes. It stands as a sharp warning to the working class as to the policies the army hopes to ultimately carry out.

The military has been the central pillar of the Egyptian capitalist state ever since the 1952 Free Officers Coup. Under Mubarak’s IMF-approved “free market” measures, the senior command amassed enormous personal fortunes as the military appropriated vast swathes of privatised state industry and landed property. The workers’ movement for higher wages, jobs, improved living conditions, and democratic rights represents a direct threat to the army hierarchy’s lucrative interests, as well as an implicit challenge to the rule of the entire Egyptian bourgeoisie.

The latest developments underscore the military’s concern over the emerging movement of the working class in the final days of Mubarak’s rule. Mass strikes erupted February 8 and 9, continuing up until Mubarak made his televised speech on February 10 in which it had been expected he would announce his resignation, but instead strove to cling to power.

According to a detailed account published by Al Ahram, the dictator had intended to step down but was persuaded by his wife and son Gamal not to. When this threatened to provoke a further upsurge in the revolutionary movement, the military stepped in and seized power to try to maintain control over the situation.

Notably, none of the official middle class “opposition” parties—including the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change—has condemned the military’s threats against the working class. Striving to maintain illusions in the role of the army, these forces have urged an end to the demonstrations and strikes. ElBaradei and his colleagues are now preparing to enter the military regime.

Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague said yesterday that Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told him that the current government would be reshuffled to include opposition figures by next week. While the successful elevation of these “opposition” forces would open up opportunities for the individuals involved, for the Egyptian working class it would signify no more than providing a civilian fig-leaf for the military government.

Prominent anti-Mubarak activists, Google executive Wael Ghonim and blogger Amr Salamahey, met with representatives of the military council. They were reportedly told that the army plans to rewrite the constitution within ten days—entirely behind the backs of the Egyptian people—and put it to a referendum for ratification within two months.

The military has yet to announce when it will deliver on its pledge to rescind Mubarak’s draconian emergency legislation. It has also remained silent on whether it will release the many political prisoners who remain in detention.

The Independent’s Robert Fisk asked: “Is this because there are prisoners who know too much about the army’s involvement in the previous regime? Or because escaped and newly liberated prisoners are returning to Cairo and Alexandria from desert camps with terrible stories of torture and executions by—so they say—military personnel.”

From WSWS

Egypt: The Ancien Regime Tries To Hoodwink the Working Class

Events since the fall of Hosni Mubarak have shown that the Egyptian revolution is only in its initial stages. With its series of communiqués issued over the weekend, the Egyptian military has made clear its response to the revolutionary struggles. Its aim is to divert and suppress the mass movement, while ensuring a tactical transfer of power to maintain the old regime in all but name.

The Egyptian army is highlighting its elimination of various legal fictions of the Mubarak regime— the rubber-stamp parliament and the dictator’s constitution. Far from leading a “democratic transition,” the army is trying to keep itself in power while granting none of the basic demands that are driving millions of Egyptians into the streets.

The country is now under the rule of a military junta, which is retaining all the emergency powers of the old regime, preserving the police, and attempting to rule through a network of old Mubarak cronies like Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Deeply tied to Egypt’s business community, the officer corps is hostile to the wave of strikes that is shaking Egypt, and workers’ demands for improved wages and social conditions. While it does not yet feel strong enough to do so, the army is signaling its intention to move against strikers. In a statement denouncing “chaos and disorder,” the Higher Military Council said it would ban meetings by labor unions or professional syndicates, effectively making strikes illegal.

In the six months, and perhaps longer, the army plans to hold elections on the basis of a constitution drafted exclusively by itself, and without dissolving Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). That is, it hopes to use the six-month period to wind down the protests and give a pseudo-democratic cover to a regime no less responsive to the demands of the population than the one controlled by the hated Mubarak.

This basic political fact is summed up in the person of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi — now officially the ruler of Egypt — as depicted in cables by US Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone published by WikiLeaks.

Describing Tantawi in March 2008 as committed to the 1979 treaty with Israel and firmly “opposed [to] both economic and political reforms,” Ricciardone summed up Tantawi’s politics thus: “He and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time.”

The claim that this corresponds to protestors’ demands is a repugnant lie. The millions of people now participating in strikes and protests — and the thousands who were killed or tortured — were not struggling to preserve the old regime.

Egypt’s official “opposition” is nonetheless signaling its support for the army. After stressing the need for “law and order” Friday, Mohammed ElBaradei declared yesterday: “We trust the army and call upon people to give them the opportunity to implement what they promised.”

Mohamed el-Katatni, a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: “The main goal of the revolution has been achieved.”

These statements clearly demonstrate that no constituency for genuine democracy exists in the Egyptian capitalist class, or its backers in Washington, or in the capitals of the other imperialist powers. The basic demands of the workers and oppressed masses — for better wages and living conditions, for social equality, and for an end to imperialist domination — fill all sections of the political establishment with dread. Faced with a mass upsurge of the working class, threatening their basic class interests, the pro-capitalist “opposition” has reacted by backing the dictatorship.

The Emerging Counter-Revolutions In Tunisia And Egypt

By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

An arrogant pharaoh has fallen. Egyptians may be chanting that their country is free, but their struggle is far from over. The United Arab Republic of Egypt is not free yet. The old regime and its apparatus are still very much in place and waiting for the dust to settle. The Egyptian military is officially in control of Egypt and the counter-revolution is emerging. A new phase of the struggle for liberty has started.

The so-called regime-desired “transitional phases” in Tunisia and Egypt are being used to buy time in order to do three things. The first objective is to erode and eventually break the people’s popular demands. The second goal is to work to preserve neo-liberal economic policies, which will be used to subvert the political system, and to tighten the straightjacket of external debts. Finally, the third motivation and objective is the preparation of counter-revolution.

The Self-Selected Egyptian “Wise Men”

Unqualified figures are emerging, which claim to be speaking or leading the Arab people. This includes the so-called committee of “Wise Men” in Egypt. These unelected figures are supposedly negotiating with the Mubarak regime on behalf of the Egyptian population, but they have no legitimacy as representatives of the people. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, is amongst them. Secretary-General Moussa has also said that he is interested in becoming a future cabinet minister in Cairo. All of these figures are either regime insiders or agents of the status quo.

Amongst these self-chosen individuals also is the chief of Orascom Telecom Holdings (O.T.H.) S.A.E., Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Bloomberg Newsweek had this to say about Sawiri: “Most Egyptian businessmen are keeping low profiles these days. The protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square blame them for Egypt’s ills, and mobs have even trashed some of their properties. Yet Egypt’s most prominent mogul, Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding, the Middle East’s biggest telecome company is in Cairo fielding calls on his mobile phone, appearing on TV, and (as a member of an informal committee of “wise men”) negotiating with newly appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman about a gradual transfer of power away from President Hosni Mubarak. Far from discouraged, the billionaire thinks a more vibrant Egyptian economy may emerge from the turmoil.” [1]

The so-called “Wise Men” in Egypt are involved in bravado. To whom is the power “gradually” being “transfered”? Another unelected figure, like Suleiman?

What is the nature of the negotiations? Power sharing between an unelected regime and a new cast? There is nothing to negotiate with unelected despots. The role that the “Wise Men” play is that of a “manufactured opposition” that will keep the interests behind the Mubarak regime in place and also dilute the real opposition movements in Egypt.

Al-Mebazaa Given Dictator Powers while Tunisian Military Reservists are Mobilized

In Tunisia, military reservists are being summoned for duty to manage the protesters. [2] The mobilization of the Tunisian military has been justified under the pretext of combating lawlessness and violence. The Tunisian regime itself has been behind most this lawlessness and violence.

At the same time as the mobilization of Tunisian reservists, Fouad Al-Mebazaa, the interim president of Tunisia, has been given dictatorial powers. [3] Al-Mebazaa was the man that Ben Ali selected as parliamentary speaker of Tunisia and a leading figure inside Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDP) Party. Protesters peacefully tried to stop the members of the Tunisian Parliament from voting to grant dictatorial powers to Al-Mebazaa by blocking entry into the Tunisian Parliament.

The members of the Tunisian Parliament are all members of the “old regime.” Amid the protests, the Tunisian Parliament still managed to go forward with the plan: “Lawmakers eventually bypassed demonstrators by accessing the voting hall through a service door, the TAP news agency reported. In a 177-16 vote, the lower house approved a plan to give Interim President Fouad Mebazaa temporary powers to pass laws by decree.” [4] The next day, the Tunisian Senate would approve this too. [5]

Al-Mebazza can now select governors and officials at will, change electoral laws, give amnesty to whomsoever he pleases, and bypass all Tunisian state institutions through his decrees. The passing of the motion to give Al-Mebazza what amounts to dictatorial powers is an illustration of the facets of “cosmetic democracy.” This act by the kangaroo Tunisian Parliament is being passed off as a democratic act of voting, but in reality all its members were undemocratically selected by the Ben Ali regime.

The Generals of the Egyptian Military and Vice-President Suleiman are a Continuation of Mubarak

In Egypt, the commanders of the military have stated that they will not allow the protests to continue for much longer. The military leadership of Egypt are all heavily invested into the kleptocratic status quo of the Mubarak regime. Egyptian generals or flag officers are all wealthy members of the Egyptian capitalist class. Without any distinctions, the leadership of the Egyptian military and the Mubarak regime are one and the same. All key figures in the Mubarak regime are from the ranks of the military.

Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice-president of Egypt and the general who was the former head of the intelligence services of Egypt, has started to back-track on the promises made by the Mubarak regime and himself. The New York Times reported that “Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders.” [6] Just days before Mubarak’s resignation, Suleiman has also stated: “He does not think that President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September [2011]. And he does not think [Egypt] is ready for democracy.” [7]

Battles have been Won, But the Struggle Continues…

The stakes are getting higher. The people of Tunisia and Egypt should be aware that the U.S. government and the European Union are politically hedging their bets. They support the counter-revolutions of the old regimes, but are also working to co-opt and control the outcomes of the protest movements. In another development, the U.S. and NATO are also making naval deployments into the Eastern Mediterranean. Specifically with Egypt in mind, this too could be meant to aid the counter-revolution, but it can also be used to intervene against a successful revolution.

The events in Tunisia and Egypt have proven wrong all the false assumptions about the Arab peoples. The Tunisian and Egyptian people have acted peacefully and intelligently. They have also proven that the assumption of an advanced political culture in Western Europe, North America, or Australia is merely utter nonsense used to justify repression of other peoples.

NOTES

[1] Stanley Reed, “Egypt’s Telecom Mogul Embraces Uprising,” Bloomberg Businessweek, February 10, 2011.
[2] “Tunisia calls up reserve troops amid unrest,” Associated Press (AP), February 7, 2011.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Kaouther Larbi, “Tunisia Senate grants leader wide powers,” Agence France-Presse (AFP), February 10, 2011.
[6] Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, “In Egypt, US Weighs Push For Change With Stability,” The New York Times, February 8, 2011, A1.
[7] Ibid.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).

 

Egypt: Mubarak’s Fall Is Only the Beginning of the Revolution

Hosni Mubarak’s departure came after 18 days of demonstrations and strikes that had waxed and waned, but that had generally grown in size and scope in spite of the brutal oppression of the regime. At this stage in the revolution, at least 300 have been killed―the real number is doubtless far higher―and thousands have been arrested and “disappeared”.

The decisive moment came Wednesday and Thursday, when the Egyptian working class moved to the forefront, partially or completely shutting down every sector of the economy.

The strike wave propelled the Egyptian military to finally move against Mubarak. Up until then, the Obama administration backed Mubarak, fearful that his removal would only spread the revolutionary contagion beyond Egypt and set the stage for a showdown between the Egyptian workers and the military, which will be neither willing nor able to address the social and democratic grievances of the masses.

Today there is justified jubilation in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, as millions of Egyptian workers and youth celebrate their historic victory.

These extraordinary events are a turning point not only for Egypt, but for the entire world. They have shown the immense social power of the working class, unanswerably refuting claims that the collapse of the Soviet Union signified the “end of history”—that is, the end of class struggle as a factor in human affairs. The victorious heroism of the masses of Egypt in the face of torture, arrests and repression are an inspiration for workers and youth around the globe.

Mubarak’s resignation was a humiliating about-face from his speech, delivered less than 24 hours earlier, in which he provocatively refused to step down. It was also a blow to the military brass, which issued a statement on Friday morning supporting the transfer of authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the longtime head of the Egyptian intelligence agency.

It is a devastating setback for the Arab bourgeoisie, which fears the spread of revolution beyond Egypt; for the Israeli state, whose policies of repression and military terror depend on the suppression of working class struggle both in the Arab countries and in Israel itself; and above all for US imperialism, which for 31 years was the main financier and backer of the Mubarak dictatorship. Washington has been complicit in all the regime’s crimes, including the widespread use of torture against political opponents.

The revolutionary upheavals gripping North Africa are the first major response of the world working class to the conditions created by the global economic crisis of capitalism. In bringing down Mubarak, workers in Egypt have launched the first salvo in a world struggle against economic exploitation, the suppression of democratic rights, and social inequality defended by governments not only in Egypt, but around the world.

As significant as the resignation of Mubarak is, however, it is only the beginning of this struggle. Mubarak may be gone, but the regime remains, with power in the hands of the officer corps that has been the linchpin of the capitalist dictatorship in Egypt for decades. The masses know they have only begun to settle accounts with the exploiters—the secret police, the venal Egyptian generals, and Mubarak himself.

In its struggle to hang on to power, the Egyptian regime will find its most ruthless allies in the financial aristocracy of the imperialist powers. For weeks, the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to bolster Mubarak, insisting that he should oversee an “orderly transition.”

Obama’s perfunctory speech Friday afternoon acknowledging Mubarak’s resignation came on the heels of a Friday morning statement in which the administration pointedly did not call for Mubarak to step down.

Washington is undoubtedly engaged in intense discussions with the Egyptian military to ensure that whatever regime replaces Mubarak will equally be committed to US imperialist interests.

No confidence can be placed in the military or in Egypt’s official “opposition”—which has indicated its complete support for the military government—to oversee a “democratic transition.” One “opposition” leader, Mohammed El Baradei, has suggested that this could take place in a year’s time, leaving the military free to do what it wants for an entire year.

US imperialist strategists hope that in the meantime Washington will be able to shower its favored stooges in Egypt with cash, and arrange a “transition” that returns the working class to where it was before the overthrow of Mubarak. Speaking on CNN, former CIA director James Woolsey said the US should “work with the forces of stability and change in a democratic and law-abiding direction” and “help them economically, help them politically.”

Such comments are a serious warning to the working class. The jubilation tonight at Mubarak’s departure is as it should be, but the initial gains of the revolution must not be lost. The question of class strategy and the formation of a new revolutionary leadership in the working class will determine the fate of the next stage of the revolution.

The backing given by Washington and El Baradei to the military government is not an accident, but a reflection of the interests of the capitalist class. Every attempt to improve the conditions of the masses—raising wages, reducing prices, or defending political freedoms—inevitably puts workers in conflict with the representatives of this elite, who oppose any change that impinges on their economic or strategic interests.

From WSWS