By Farooque Chowdhury
One hundred years ago, the proletariat in Petrograd celebrated the historic May Day in jubilation and honor. “Thousands of people turned out for the 1917 May Day parade. They carried […] banners and posters, which became the main elements of the decorations in Petrograd.” (Natalia Murray, “Feast in a time of plague, May Day celebrations of 1917-1918”, Baltic Worlds, vol. VI, no. 1, April 2013, Sodertorn University, Sweden)
“One of the leading artists of the World of Art movement, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, wrote, ‘[W]e have witnessed the birth of a new era: on the First of May we artists finally took our revolutionary banners out onto the streets […]!’” (Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, “Bomba ili khlopushka: Razgovor mezhdu dvumia khudozhnikami”, “A bomb or a firecracker: a conversation between two artists”, Novaia Zhizn, no. 83, 1918-05-04, quoted in Murray, op. cit.)
That was a crucial hour of proletariat’s political struggle in Russia. The proletariat was positioning to attain an epoch-making victory within months. And, sectarian trends within politics were losing foothold as whirlwind of proletariat’s political fight was getting powerful although the bourgeoisie and tsarist elements were trying utmost to fan hatred and sectarianism among the working people.
Today, around the world, working people in millions are observing and celebrating the May Day. On streets and squares in cities, workers are struggling state with violent force, in industrial areas, work stoppages are declaring labor’s power, in towns and urban areas, toilers’ demonstrations are demanding rights, and city centers are turning vibrant with working people’s marches and celebrations. And today, capital is drawing lines of divisions among the working people in countries and societies.
And, yet, condition of the proletariat is precarious. Capital’s onslaught on labor is in full force now as capital is scrambling to get out of crises it has created. The onslaught has taken forms as capital struggles to socialize its burdens it is failing to bear and profit from: from austerity measures, budget cuts, re-locating of factories and manufacturing plant, so-called out-sourcing, espionage and demobilizations to wars and interventions with varying types, from spreading of sectarianism, Nazi ideas with different appearances, “democracy”- and “rights”- mongering, defending medieval ideas and practices to seeding of confusion in the ranks of the working people. To keep labor subjugated, ultra-advanced capital is forming alliance with backward forces. Advanced capitalist countries, matured bourgeois republics are in the forefront in their business of the hour. Media carry reports of these onslaughts every day.
A news-report from Wheeling, US, said:
“Almost 23,000 retired coal miners and their dependents [recently] received official notification that they could lose their health care benefits by April 30.” United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts said: “They will now have to begin contemplating whether to continue to get medicines and treatments they need to live or to buy groceries. They will now have to wonder if they can go see a doctor for chronic conditions like black lung or cancer or pay the mortgage.” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said: “Ohio coal miners have spent decades underground to power our country, provide for their families and retire with dignity. But the promise they were made for their backbreaking work is in jeopardy, and thousands nationwide will lose the benefits they earned in weeks.” (The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register, Wheeling, WV, “Nearly 23,000 coal miners to lose benefits, miners, families notified via letter”, April 26, 2017)
An AP report said: “Congress is close to a deal to extend health benefits for more than 22,000 retired miners and widows whose medical coverage is set to expire Sunday”. (The Pantagraph, IL, “The latest: White House blasts Dems on spending bill”, April 26, 2017) There, political struggle is casting shade of cloud over the issue of miners.
There are many other similar cases of uncertainty with health care and other essentials of life in the same country. In another country, on the other side of the Atlantic, another news-report shows state’s role against labor.
A BBC report said:
“Former miners in Wales are calling for a review of their pension fund, arguing they should be awarded a larger share of surplus money.
“Currently, the UK government takes 50% of any surplus earned by the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS) from its investments as part of a guarantee.
“About 25,000 miners are thought to be in receipt of the MPS in Wales […]
“When the coal industry was privatized in 1994, the UK government agreed to guarantee the total pension would not fall in cash terms, and that if there was a surplus it would be shared 50/50 with the scheme’s members.
“Since the deal was struck, the UK government said it had received £3.35bn from the scheme.” (“Miners’ pensions ‘should not be used as a cash cow’”, November 16, 2016)
Isn’t the state gaining 50% of surplus capital appropriated from labor? The “seed money” – miners’ contribution – was part of necessary labor, which was miners’ bare necessity for survival, and the “seed money” invested somewhere gained more “money” to have surplus from some other source, which was originally appropriated from labor in somewhere else.
The BBC report said:
Ex-miner Ken Sullivan, 64, of Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, claimed some miners are on less than £10 a week.
Less than £10 a week means slightly more than £1 or slightly less than £2 a day. How much demand is made by bread, potato and their “colleagues” daily? Forget about clothes and shoe. Theater, movie, sports, picnic? Toilers’ brains “can’t” consume those elegant “things” reserved only for the bourgeoisie! The miners, even, “don’t” possess that heart! Let them “get” lost!
Capital’s antagonistic role is evident in working people’s immediate survival areas. To capital, pensioners are not essential for regeneration of capital; so, capital likes to forget pensioners’ consumption: bread, tea, flask, shoe, blanket and some other “minor” items and expenditures including burial expenses.
There’s another story related to labor.
On June 18, 1984, a Thatcherite-time, thousands of police and striking miners clashed violently at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire, UK. It’s known as the Battle of Orgreave. On a page of The Guardian, historian Tristram Hunt characterized the clash as “a brutal example of legalized state violence.” (“The charge of the heavy brigade”, September 4, 2006)
A BBC report said:
“The Thatcher government feared a ‘witch hunt’ if a public inquiry were held into policing of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, declassified files show.
“Minutes of a meeting in 1985 show Leon Brittan, then home secretary, wanted to avoid ‘any form of enquiry’ into policing of the picket lines.
“Miners say the files show successive governments ‘never wanted the truth to come out’ over the events.” (“Miners’ strike policing inquiry ‘would have been witch hunt’”, March 9, 2017)
Eighteen files have been released after home secretary Amber Rudd promised that 30 unreleased files connected with the strike would be published. The files, as the BBC report said, show:
“At a meeting held in 1985, […] Leon Brittan said he believed the ‘government should not encourage any form of enquiry into the behavior of the police’, as it would ‘turn into a witch hunt’ with an ‘anti-police bias’
“The permanent secretary of the Home Office Sir Brian Cubbon, in 1984 wrote ‘internal questions’ needed to be asked about how ‘the Home Office relay(s) to the police service the political influence on operational policy which was wanted in the early days of the (miners) dispute’
“Local government representatives told the Police Advisory Board in 1986, that the Association of Chief Police Officers, ‘were concerned less with what actually happened during the miners dispute than with what might happen in the future’
“Ex-miner Frank Arrowsmith, who was on the picket line during the year long strike, said ‘the suspicion is never going to go away that those in Number 10 [Downing Street, prime minister’s official residence] and the home secretary decided to use the police as a battering ram to defeat the miners’.
“Nicholas Jones, who covered the strike as the BBC’s industrial correspondent, said: ‘These documents really open the window on what the government and the police were thinking in 1985.
“‘There is no sign of any feeling of remorse in these files, in fact the police are quite dismissive about the event’.
“‘I find it worrying that there were immediate efforts from the very top of government to shut down any enquiry into the miners’ strike’, said Labour MP Andy Burnham who has campaigned on behalf the Hillsborough families.”
The files may unfold a part of the inner-working of that “legalized state violence”. State, yes, it’s state and state violence under the cover of law.
There’s the issue of transparency within the proud bourgeois democracy, a political question, part of an agenda capital considers a no-man’s land for the working masses. Capital and the democracy it practices are never transparent with exceptions of moments facing pressure either from its factional-fight, or in need of legitimacy and acceptability, or from the masses engaged in political action.
The sources of the information cited above are not the political literature of the proletariat, but the mainstream media; and at least a part of capital and its political power come out under sunlight from these reports.
Further look gives further findings.
On the shores of the Indian Ocean, labor’s condition is not good.
“The South African mining sector has, for more than 100 years, been […] using physically demanding manual drilling methods with blasting and cleaning on a stop-start basis, predominantly in narrow reef, hard-rock mining for gold, platinum and chrome.
“Working conditions are generally characterised by abrasive rock, steep gradients and seismicity. And with increasing depth, the virgin rock temperature continues to rise. On the Witwatersrand Basin, which is host to the world’s largest gold resource, the virgin rock temperature at depths of 2,000 meters below surface can be as high as 40ºC. On the Bushveld Complex, which is host to 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, these temperatures are even higher, reaching 70ºC.” (Chamber of Mines of South Africa, Modernisation: Towards the Mines of Tomorrow, Fact sheet 2017)
“Stupid” labor, with a “cursed” life, goes down to the hot-depth daily, works for hours throughout an entire working-life, and there pulls up riches from that depth. Labor has “no” way at the moment. It’s now chained by starvation and fear. Michael Yates, in his “Class: A personal story” (Monthly Review, vol. 58, issue 3, July-August 2006) essay explains in an excellent way the issue of fear in working people’s life.
What follows beastly toil in the mines?
In July 2016, UNCTAD report Trade Misinvoicing in Primary Commodities in Developing Countries: The Cases of Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia pointed to a systematic practice of mis- and underinvoicing among mining companies in these countries. It alleged that the mining industry has been engaging in this practice with the direct objective of avoiding taxes, or at the very least reducing tax burdens in producing countries.
The report stated:
Mining and oil companies have misappropriated 67% of export revenue in the countries studied.
For South Africa, the report calculated cumulative underinvoicing over the period 2000-2014 to have amounted to US$ 102.8 billion (2014 US dollars): US$ 600 million for iron ore; US$ 24 billion for silver and platinum; and US$ 78.2 billion for gold.
Key conclusions of the report include “substantial export misinvoicing − both underinvoicing and overinvoicing – in all five countries, with a clear preponderance of export underinvoicing, except for copper exports from Chile”.
However, an “independent” review by a Johannesburg-based firm “narrowed the gap in measuring exports […] from USD 78.2 billion to USD 19.5 billion”, and found “most of the USD 19.5 billion discrepancy can very likely be attributed to errors in the reported gold imports of South Africa’s trading partners, not in South Africa’s reported gold exports.” (Letter of the managing director of the firm, February 7, 2017) The review claimed that the UNCTAD report’s methodology was flawed. [Findings of the report still stand even if it’s accepted that the entire S A-business was miscalculated as there are other countries.]
However, UNCTAD in an “Accompanying note for the revised version of the Report” said: “The revised report provides a more detailed exposition of the methodology and the concepts used while further stressing the main messages from the analysis.” (December 23, 2016)
The reality for labor appears in full “bloom” with the information cited above: hard labor in inhuman condition, uncertain life, deception, non-transparency, trick, a wage difficult to live on, in cases, less than £10 a week, and billions of dollars “miscalculated”, a “simple error”. Deep in mines workers have to option to err, as that’s a question of their life and death, which demand a small sum of dollar. It’s also a question of profit and loss for mine owners: amount of gold and size of diamond extracted at the cost of “cheaply expendable” lives to build up mountains of profit.
The reality that gets constructed makes labor perish here and there. A glimpse finds: how cheap is labor’s life! It’s like How Green was My Valley. Labor’s lost life is not always properly counted, even.
A methane gas explosion in a coal mine in Ukraine killed at least eight miners. There was confusion over the exact number of miners killed. (AFP, “8 killed in gas explosion at Ukraine coal mine”, March 2, 2017”)
In a collapsed coal mine in Jharkhand, death toll rose to 10. The cave in buried at least 23 miners. (AFP, “10 Dead in Jharkhand mine cave-in, many still missing”, December 31, 2016)
A gas explosion killed 18 coal miners in China. (AP, “Rescuers try to find 15 still trapped by mine blast in China”, November 1, 2016)
Similar death-news are many. Number of deaths increases as tomorrow replaces today, misinvoicing multiplies, profit proliferates.
“The rate of fatalities, injuries, disease, and potential effects of acid mine drainage present the gruesome face of a killing industry. For example 69,000 mineworkers were killed due to mine incidents between 1900 [and] 1993 [while] one million had been injured in this period. [….] “An Oxford led [study] suggested that the mining industry in Africa could possibly be linked to almost 760,000 new TB infections per year […].” (Mike Fafuli, Genocidal Effects of Dereliction of Duty by Mining in SA, National Union of Mine Workers, May 3, 2012)
Sometimes capital needs dead bodies for political, propaganda, etc. purposes, but not always. Today’s Venezuela is a burning example. But, “confusion” with number of miners dead is a case of “error” with miners’ life as it was also an “error” with billions of dollars! The former is related to cost and investment while the later is related to profit. The fact is: with a “soft” touch of err minimum wage can’t reach the “dangerous” ceiling of $15, but billions of dollars are “erred” as the $15 is needed by a starving stomach of a disorganized laborer while the billions of dollars are demanded by powerful persons in Copenhagen and Zurich. Substantial amount of dollars still remain in chests of the misinvoicers even after subtracting the “erred” amount of dollars. It’s part of profit, and the profit was created by labor only to be appropriated by capitalists, the mine-owners, the bankers, and their cousins and nephews. So, the amount mirror a part of the size of surplus labor produced by working at depths of 2,000 meters below surface with 40ºC-70ºC temperature for hours, for days, for an entire working-life, for generations. It’s not only the story from mines in five countries the UNCTAD report mentioned; it’s the story of all mines, of all manufacturing plants, of all artisanal industries and the “loving” SME – small and medium enterprise – in all lands.
Average earnings of miners come out to $21.55 per hour in the US, a coal miner earns an average wage of $23.04 per hour. A miner in South Africa earns an average salary of R221,610 per year. (updated March 25 and 24, 2017 respectively, www.payscale.com) The average salary for mining jobs in Wales, UK is £42,500. (www.totaljobs.com) In countries in the periphery, the wage figures are unloveable and crude joke. Living wage? Minimum wage? All. In comparison to price index? Not comfortable. A harder life it’s. A life turned intolerable. Look at the wage laborers in India or Myanmar, in Indonesia or Pakistan, in Senegal or Jordan, Brazil or some other country tangled in the world capitalist system.
Are these figures related to wage comparable to the “erred” figures of billions of dollars? And, are both of these figures, of wage and of “error”, comparable to the figures related to death of laborers? Mainstream mentors have the answer, probably.
With this condition of labor, a wave of sectarianism in the name of opposing sectarianism is gaining ground. Certain “rights” activists are over-active in voicing “rights” of only one sect as if rights of the rest are not denied and violated. These sound like a South Africa-story, like a Nazi-story.
Luli Callinicos in her famous A People’s History of South Africa details:
The mine-owners were careful not to give the black and the white workers a chance to act together against management. One mine-owner wrote: “The combination of the working classes will become so strong as to be able more or less to dictate, not only on the question of wages, but also on political questions by the power of the vote.” Mine-owners felt it was important to distance white miners from the black workers, and to place one above the other. Most white South Africans were brought up to believe that they were better than another. Racism was used by the mine-owners. Few black workers felt any sympathy for the whites’ struggle for trade union rights. It was like “We are fighting our own battles and the white man is fighting his own battle. He does not consider us and we do not consider him in this respect.” (shortened, vol. I: Gold and Workers 1886 – 1924, chapter 17, “The Divided Workers”, Ravan Press, Johannesburg, 1980)
These tactics were to safeguard profits and system of labor control, observes Luli Callinicos.
Who was gaining from this division among the toilers? The coterie of writers presenting sectarian, communal arguments with progressive-posture to facilitate capital’s divisive tact know answer to the question. Yet, they carry on their divisive propaganda. Capital needs pals in its days of crises. Concern of these chums of capital is not the entire working people, but only a single group as if no other people are facing onslaughts by capital and state. It’s a completely hatred-filled, divisive Nazi-tact. Recollect the way Hitler began spewing his hatred-politics: it was “we are the supreme”, it was “we are the purer of the pure”, it was “we are the herrenvolk, master race”, it was “we are the victim of conspiracy”, it was “we need Lebensraum, living space”; so, “hate everything other than we, hate all people other than we, hate all arts-literature-science other than Nazi-physics, Nazi-etc., Nazi-etc.”. The corporal leading a gang of murderers made division among people. A defeated, shattered Germany prepared a perfect stage for the hatred-monger.
Today, that divisive tact is being steamed. So, the present situation requires the task of trampling all forms of sectarianism as it harms working people’s struggle. On this May Day, toilers have to intensify this task as unity of all the working people crossing all types of delimiting lines is in their interest, as unity of the working people takes away all steam from engine of reactionary, factious politics, and the politics will lose the biggest chunk of its present constituency. So, the toilers are to trumpet: Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, has authored/edited no other book in English till today other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next? The Great Financial Crisis (ed.).