Saturday, April 28, 2012


It is theoretical weekends here at Scission.  I won't take up your time today with my blabbering.  I will just present to you the post below which I borrow from The South African Civil Society Information Service.  Trust me, this one is not too long and too the point.

The Enduring Rationality of Revolt

by Richard Pithouse
In recent weeks the centre of the unstable and diverse social ferment that has been bubbling and boiling at the base of South African society since at least 2004 has shifted to Cape Town. People have often remarked that the conflict on the slopes of the Sentinel in Hout Bay, in which four people lost their eyes to rubber bullets fired by the police, has evoked the past.
But our cities are the most unequal in the world and many of our people are holding firmly to the promise of inclusion in a time of escalating social exclusion, which is often driven by the market and backed by state violence. There is every chance that the clash in Hout Bay is just as likely to speak to our future as to our past.
It’s frequently argued, by both the state and civil society, that now that we have constitutional democracy, forms of protest like the road blockade, the riot, land occupations and self organised water and electricity connections are illegitimate and anti-social.
In many cases it is asserted, in wilful ignorance of the history of the riot across space and time, that the destruction of property is automatically anti-social and even violent. But the riot is not inevitably anti-social and has often been, precisely, the collective defence of the integrity of the social. A riot can only be properly understood in its full context.
There’s no doubt that popular revolt can take anti-social forms and that it is essential to be attentive to this. But if we understand democracy as the equal opportunity for the expression of political agency then it becomes clear that the parameters within which official discourse aims to contain dissent are often, in practice if not in principle, limitations on democracy rather than a defence of its full and final institutionalisation.
Our elite public sphere, again in practice if not in principle, generally assumes that its protagonists will be bourgeois and is largely unwelcoming to the collective agency of people who must make their lives in mud, shit and fire without easy or independent access to donor funding, lawyers, lobbyists, conference venues and the media.
And, the social reality beneath the elite public sphere is often governed by a very different logic in which political containment is a deliberate and routinely unlawful process. There is a growing authoritarianism on the part of both the party and the state that, via police and party violence, as well as the systemic distortion of development and social welfare by party political interests, actively denies substantive access to democratic freedoms to the people that need them the most.
The academic literature on poor people’s movements is clear that while professional civil society activists are good at generating fantastical ideas about how the oppressed should respond to their oppression, in reality, opportunities for popular dissent are rare and insurgency is usually short lived. Moreover, the forms that it can take are invariably limited by material and structural factors and rarely, if ever, conform to middle class organisers’ prescriptions of the form and content that popular mobilisation should take.
It is also recognised that there is, across space and time, a pronounced tendency for structural and state violence to be normalised, sometimes to the point of invisibility, and for popular insurgency to be automatically cast as violent and anti-social even when it is quite clearly not.
In their classic study on popular politics in the United States, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, Frances Piven and Richard Cloward conclude that professional organisers tend to be driven to the symbolic and material support that elites can provide with the result that they have usually “not only failed to seize the opportunity presented by the rise of unrest, they typically acted in ways that blunted or curbed the disruptive force which lower-class people were sometimes able to mobilise.”
The mode of social change backed by professional civil society has won some important victories in post-apartheid South Africa, with the movement in support of equal access to medical treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS being, clearly, the most successful project. But professional civil society has not stopped material inequality from worsening, it has failed to make any meaningful contribution to the resolution of the housing crisis and it has not stopped the escalating and often violent exclusion of many people at the bottom of our society from real access to democracy.
When a social system is not working, people have the right to challenge it directly and outside of the rules that it sets for engagement. Until and unless we reach a point where the actions of the state are beginning to turn the tide against economic and political exclusion, the state’s legal right to declare popular forms of revolt illegitimate has no moral standing.
And until and unless we reach a point where the actions of civil society are beginning to turn the tide against economic and political exclusion, civil society has no right to automatically declare popular revolt illegitimate when it operates outside the logic of civil society.
Around the world, the road blockade, the strike of the unemployed, has emerged as a key social weapon of the unemployed or the precariously employed who cannot exercise pressure on society by withdrawing their labour. Here in South Africa, it is, around the country, the key tactic in the municipal revolts that have raged across the country since 2004.
The road blockade has the enormous merit of being a weapon that is firmly in the hands of ordinary people. You don’t need donor funding, professional activists and easy access to lawyers and lobbyists to organise a decent road blockade. It can be used, immediately, by ordinary people to disrupt business as usual. Disruption is a tactic and not a positive programme for social change, but, as studies like that of Priven and Cloward have shown, poor people have often won more from the production of the material and symbolic challenge of what they call social turbulence than from the development of a social wish list which is not, in itself, any kind of real threat to the powerful.
Like any weapon that can produce an immediate affect, the intoxication of the immediacy of the road blockade risks encouraging a degree of hubris and localism along with what Frantz Fanon called a mistrust of subtlety. Like any weapon, it can be misused and any particular use of it must be assessed on its particular merits. Like any weapon, if its use is not subordinated to a process of open and democratic deliberation, it risks degenerating into a counter brutality.
But, in principle, the right to disrupt business as usual and to do so outside of the rules of engagement set up by the state and civil society, must be affirmed for as long as the state and civil society continue to fail to realise the legitimate aspirations and urgent needs of ordinary people.
If blockading roads with burning tyres can go some way towards turning the hidden crisis of poverty, often experienced as an endless, private and shameful disaster by the poor, into a public and urgent crisis for elites that calls their right to rule as they do into question, then we must recognise the road blockade as a potentially social action and the automatic defence of business as usual as inherently anti-social.

Friday, April 27, 2012


It is Politcal Prisoner Friday here at SCISSION and today I want to present you with a man who has spent four decades now in prison for a crime he will tell you he did not commit.  That man is Muhammad "Fred" Burton.  

It is a story we have already told you a thousand times it seems, just a different name attached. 

Part of the story is the continued lies of the main witness against Muhammad, mentioned above.  Lies which have since been documented, lies which at the original trial and such were called "contradictions."

Philly City Paper reported in 2007 this witness, Marie Williams:

"... told the jury she heard six men, including Burton, talk about "eliminating pigs" in her West Philly basement during a meeting of an alleged offshoot of the Black Panther Party. Between Aug. 30 and Dec. 7, 1972, Williams flipped her story at least four times, according to official documents. Sometimes, Burton was at the meeting. Sometimes, he wasn't. Other times, she said she never overheard the conversation."

The paper also wrote:

 "Recently, Burton's fiancee, Ethel Paris, and friend Lee Wells found two documents while rooting through dusty court records that never came up during trial: a letter from Williams to the district attorney and her sworn statements during a closed immunity hearing. Williams said in both documents that her testimony against Burton was coerced."

At the trial, the judge instructed the jury,

"If you reject the testimony of Mrs. [Marie] Williams," the prosecution's star witness to the effect that the defendant was one of six men who conspired to kill policemen, then the Commonwealth's case against this defendant falls, and he must be found not guilty."

The jury didn't and Muhammad is still in prison.

The Philadelphia Anarchist Black Cross several years ago wrote:

"Fred Muhammad Burton has been falsely imprisoned for 35 years. Fred was convicted in 1972 for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman, the result of the August 29th,1970 attack on the Cobbs Creek Park police station by the Black Unity Council, a Philadelphia based revolutionary organization. Fred's conviction was based solely on the coerced and false testimony of Marie Williams, the wife of Fred's co-defendant, Hugh Williams. Marie Williams stated in a letter to the court that her testimony was given under extreme duress, a result of her being interrogated for 19 hours by Philadelphia homicide detectives. At the time of her interrogation, Marie Williams was pregnant and was given only an egg sandwich and coffee during this 19 hour period of time. These detectives threatened her husband, Hugh with the death penalty, unless she sign a statement implicating Fred in the conspiracy to attack and kill Philadelphia cops. This coerced testimony was hidden from the jury by the Philadelphia District Attorney."

The following is from the Denver Anarchist Black Cross

Fred “Muhammad” Burton

Fred BurtonFred Burton is one of the Philly 5  a group of men accused of an alleged attack on a police station that left one office killed. He was sentenced to a life term for murder. Burton has maintained his innocence since his arrest.

Personal Background

Prior to his incarceration, Fred worked for a phone company, was a well-respected member of his community and his wife was preparing to have twins, his third and fourth child.

Legal Case

In 1970, Fred was accused and then convicted of participating in the planning of the murder of Philadelphia police officers. While the plan was allegedly to blow up a police station, what occurred was that a police officer was shot and killed allegedly by members of a radical group called “the Revolutionaries.”

Only one witness, Marie Williams, who was the wife of co-defendant and primary actor, Hugh Williams, testified as to the relationship between, Fred and “the Revolutionaries.” Fred was not accused of being at the scene of the crime. At Fred’s trial, Marie Williams was compelled by order of the court to testify. Ms. Williams inculpated Fred by testifying that on one occasion, she had heard someone in her basement, a floor below her, say, “Let’s off some pigs.” She did not accuse Fred of making those statements. She only testified to Fred’s presence at that meeting. Ms. Williams also testified that besides the one meeting, she had no knowledge of the content of the meetings.

The Commonwealth intentionally struck every African-American from the active jury. The all white jury unanimously convicted Fred after being purposefully misled by the Commonwealth and Marie Williams.

The testimony of the Commonwealth’s star witness, Marie Williams, was marred by contradiction. Marie Williams initially claimed Fifth Amendment at the first two of three preliminary hearings and refused to testify. At Fred’s third preliminary hearing, Marie Williams completely exonerated Fred. She testified that she had no knowledge of “the Revolutionaries” or of Fred’s involvement with that group. After the third preliminary, the case was held for trial. Marie Williams was then subjected to a closed immunity hearing and compelled to testify at trial.

While searching through records that his family had obtained, Fred came across several items of exculpatory evidence: 1) the transcript of Marie Williams’ previously undisclosed immunity hearing, 2) the two alleged original statements by Marie Williams given to the police after the murder, and 3) a pretrial letter authored and signed by Marie Williams to the prosecutor. This letter was submitted as evidence in the immunity hearing. It stated that the prosecutor and the police were intimidating Marie Williams and forcing her to lie in court. Most importantly, the same letter stated Marie Williams has no knowledge that Fred Burton participated in any meetings or crimes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


How is it that so many of my friends in the Marxist left miss items like the one I am about to post, or don't get their significance, or would just as soon not talk about them?

These friends who go all out in defense of the likes of  Sadam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and the ever popular Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad because, as we all know that are such anti-imperialists, and friends of oppressed people everywhere.  I mean, they must be because the United States and Company hate, invade, fight and undermine them.  Right?


For the hundredth time the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Faced with the situation in Syria, what do we hear from those same friends.  Well, pretty much the same nonsense...or nothing at all.

What always intrigues me about this, well, one of the things anyway, is that these friends, these fellow and sister commies of mine don't seem to care that these swell guys would kill all of them if they showed up in their countries and advocated any sort of Marxist line...any sort.  You think Sadam cared if you were a Trotskyite or if you were all out for Uncle Joe.  You think Muammar cared if you were into Mao, Hoxha or Tito, you think Mahamoud is concerned if you call yourself an anti-revisionist Marxist Leninist or an orthodox Marxist?   I mean really.  Every last one of these dictators  is all about suppressing any organization, group or individual who dares to hint at working class revolution.  That is what they care about.

The disgusting and murderous Bashar al-Assad wants to again make one thing clear to my friends.  He wants them to know that while he is more than happy to have their support from outside his little fiefdom, he wants to hear none of your shit inside.

Got it.

These scumbag petty gangsters care about one thing...themselves and power.

PS: I may have just lost some of my friends.

The following is from the journal Links. 

Syria: Marxist intellectual arrested -- Free Salameh Kaileh!

By Omar S. Dahi and Vijay Prashad

April 26, 2012 --Jadaliyya -- At 2 am on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, the Palestinian-Syrian intellectual and activist Salameh Kaileh was arrested from his home “without explanation”, as his lawyer Anwar Bunni of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research put it. This is not Salameh Kaileh’s first time in a Syrian prison. He was a guest of the Assad family in its several jails for eight years and 11 days in the 1990s.

Born in 1955 in Birzeit in the West Bank (Palestine), Salameh studied in Baghdad (Iraq) and Damascus (Syria). Salameh emerged out of the University of Baghdad in 1979 with a BA in political science, already as one of the brightest Marxist thinkers and as a brave fighter for universal freedom. His reputation would soon span across Syria, in Palestine, around the Arab world and elsewhere. He wrote many books on a variety of themes, on imperialism, on Marxism, on the limitations of the Arab nationalism movement, on globalisation, on Zionism and on the legacy of the scientific method. Some of his books (in Arabic) include Arabs and the National Question (1989), Critique of Mainstream Marxism (1990), Imperialism and the Plunder of the World (1992), Socialism or Barbarism (2001), The problems of Marxism in the Arab World (2003) and The Problem of the Arab Nationalist Movement (2005).

Although Arab nationalism and the Arab resistance movements have received their fair share of criticism, Salameh’s criticism was always from the left wing and always constructive – it was toward building a new left force for a freedom movement that would drink deeply from the powerful heritage of Marxism and communism. Trenchant critiques of the Arab and Palestinian left, as well as the Marxist left itself, kept his allies on their toes; as the revolutionary from Guinea-Bissau, Amilcar Cabral, said, “tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. This was the touchstone of such an intellectual and political project. Salameh’s main critique of the Arab left was that it consistently played the role of “following the other”, or hitching its wagon to larger social forces such as Arab nationalist movements and Ba’athism, which ended up discrediting the Marxist left when these movements came to power. Their failures, in authoritarianism and repressive regimes and in accommodations with the domestic and international bourgeoisie, tarnished the heritage of the left.

Salameh sharpened his intimate critique of Arab nationalism and of Marxism by his simultaneous and unrelenting criticism of Western imperialism, the conservative Arab regimes and, centrally, Zionism.

Salameh went to jail in the 1990s when he renewed his criticism of the suffocation of the Ba’ath regime and its collusion with imperialism. Many have forgotten that in the Gulf War of 1991, the Syrian government participated alongside the Grand Coalition of the West against the Iraqi regime. As a gift for this participation, the West turned a blind eye to another round of reprisals by the Assad regime against its domestic opposition (as well as consolidating Syrian power in Lebanon). Salameh went to prison then.

Since his release in the late 1990s, Salameh has continued to fight for a democratic political opening in Syria and in the Arab world in general. When the first demonstration of the current phase took place on March 15, 2010, Marxists such as Salameh were right there in the thick of the struggles. The Syrian Communist Party has lain at the feet of the Assad regime since the 1960s, and has not represented the currents of genuine Marxist dissent and revolution for several generations. Many Syrian Marxists have sought, therefore, alternative platforms to struggle against the mafia-capitalism promoted by the Assad regime. In February of this year, Salameh laid out the potentiality of this uprising for the left, 

“These communists who have been taking part in the uprising believe that bringing the regime down is the main objective, and have no belief in the possibility of reform. They know that the struggle of the poor classes will continue until the replacement of the regime is made by the workers, farmers, and all the public classes, which suffer from a lack of a political representation. This is because there is no answer to their problems except through getting rid of all the liberal parties, and the collapse of the mafia-capitalist governing class, and the traditional bourgeoisie that work within the regime now and aim to control it. This capitalist mafia brought in the Baath Party and made some achievements when they first got to power, but these achievements were captured and this regime is synonymous with the capitalist mafia now. In order to achieve the goals of the uprising today, there must be a new vision based on a Marxist analysis, and that represents the interests of workers and farmers, which, in turn, can allow a new party to be set-up that would undertake a genuinely transformative programme. It is this possibility which has been opened through the uprising. Marxists therefore, must start forming the workers and farmers party, in order to establish a democratic republic, which reflects the public interest.”

Interestingly Salameh, though unequivocal of his support for the Syrian revolution, has criticised for different reasons both the Syrian National Council (mainly external opposition), as well as the National Coordination Council for Democratic Change (mainly internal opposition) as not truly representing the revolutionary masses. For Salameh, these sections of the opposition are unified by two things: neither of them trusts the capacity of the people to achieve change, and neither of them believe that the Syrian regime can be toppled by the Syrian people.

The National Coordination council’s call for reform and dialogue with the regime to achieve change misses the revolutionary moment and aspirations of the people. By lowering the bar, they lost the support of the masses. On the other hand, the SNC’s call for [Western] military intervention also belies a lack of belief in the Syrian people to achieve change. Both of those bodies, Salameh added were composed of members who had lost faith in the capacity for revolutionary change and before the March 15th uprising, had done their best to accommodate to the "reality" of the Syrian regime.

It is because Salameh is an independent voice and is an active presence for the future of Syria that the Assad regime decided to muzzle him in custody. That is the only explanation.

This is our statement on the career of Salameh. There is much to be said, and much more to be written. This is also an invitation for others to join us, to sign this statement of appreciation for his work, and to demand that the mafia capitalist regime of Assad immediately release Salameh.

Please consider signing the following petition demanding the release of Salameh Kaileh and all other political prisoners: 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Not a lot of time today.  So my introduction is actually a story.  Bear with me.  Canadian based oil companies aren't winning a whole lot of friends in Latin America in general, and Colombia in particular.  Yesterday a group of protesters blockaded the roads leading into the PetroMagdelena oil drilling site and shut the place down.  This is the second time in a month protesters have done this.  Some say the protests have to do with the recent reduction in royalties which benefit the local communities which were granted in exchange for drilling rights, others say it is a labor dispute.  My guess is both are involved.

Upstream reports,

The company said the protests in the municipalities of Trinidad and San Luis de Palenque, have “led to a lack of public order which impacts PetroMagelana’s operations in the area”. 

It has now evacuated all non-essential operational personnel to ensure their safety, and halted production on certain wells temporarily.

Canadian oil companies are making a mint down south.

The Dominion reports,

A study by Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP found that in 2010, Canadian oil and gas companies made over $35 billion in mergers and acquisitions in Central and Latin America, and the region is the second most attractive place (after the United States) for Canadian oil companies to invest outside of Canada. Colombia in particular has quickly become a favourite destination for this new surge of Canadian oil and gas investment.

 At the same time as the Canadian Senate approved a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia in June of 2010, a government-hosted bidding fair on oil and gas properties was taking place in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Canadian oil companies were among the chief supporters of the agreement, which was roundly criticized because of the continued killings, kidnapping and displacement of Indigenous people, trade unionists, peasants, dissenters and the poor in Colombia.

Canadian multinationals are doing alright for themselves, eh. 

The last two paragraphs in the Dominion report cited above is a nice intro to the real story.

This is what you will read about in the post below from AlterNet  (via Upside Down World).

The Empire is at work and the Empire really doesn't like resistance.

Progress or Promises? Free Trade and Labor Rights in Colombia

A free trade agreement with Colombia is moving forward, sparking accusations that the US is rewarding the country for 'promises, not actions.'
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Rodolfo Vecino has a death sentence on his head. He has been told he will be kidnapped, tortured and his family will be murdered. Already this year one of Vecino’s colleagues has been killed – in January, Mauricio Arrendondo and his wife Janeth were gunned down in front of their children.

Vecino is the president of Colombian oil workers union (USO), which was last year declared a “military target” by right-wing paramilitaries for its campaigns against what the union says are the abusive labor practices of Canadian oil giant Pacific Rubiales. The union’s campaign began last summer; just two months after Colombia signed a Labor Action Plan (LAP) with the U.S. pledging to tackle the very practices used by Rubiales and the type of anti-union violence that USO has suffered. The signing of the pact unblocked negotiations over the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the countries, which had stalled over Colombia’s abysmal labor rights record.

A year on, and at last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, the U.S. declared it was satisfied that Colombia had complied with the LAP and was enacting the reforms called for. The decision opens the way for full implementation of the FTA in May, even as unions and human rights groups in both countries continue to accuse the U.S. of “rewarding promises not actions”. Meanwhile, USO’s campaign against Rubiales continues and it is far from an isolated case. Unions across Colombia maintain they face the same problems of violence, worker abuse and anti-union practices, all committed with seeming impunity.

Disposable labor

Protests against Rubiales began after workers at the company’s Puerto Gaitan site contacted USO and described how 12,000 sub-contracted workers - the overwhelming majority of the workforce - were enduring low pay, appalling conditions and instability while being denied the right to bargain collectively and associate freely. 

Ending the abusive sub-contracting system commonly used in Colombia was one of the principal aims of the LAP. The practice began in the late 70s, when businesses began to take advantage of the fact that many of Colombia’s labor regulations did not apply to worker cooperatives. Companies fired their entire workforce then forced workers to sign on with contractors calling themselves cooperatives. As the workers were then classified as temporary employees and could be laid off without cause, the cooperatives forced them to accept whatever pay and conditions were on the table. It was also a useful tool for preventing unionization as any worker who began organizing or agitating could be immediately fired. “They lost their rights, they lost money [and] they lost their working stability,” said Andres Sanchez from Colombia’s National Union School (ENS). The practice continues today, utilizing Colombia’s army of the unemployed and underemployed as ready replacements for sacked workers. 

The LAP called for Colombia to enforce pre-existing but widely ignored legislation banning the cooperatives. However, as the Rubiales workers testified, in many sectors little has changed. Because the cooperatives are now banned, most of the contractors have simply changed names and become Simplified Stock Companies or Temporary Service Companies. “The phenomenon continues the same,” said Sanchez. “It is the same dynamic, they do the same things, workers [still] can’t demand that they benefit from their labor and not the third party,” he added. According to Sanchez, over 2 million workers in Colombia are still employed through these sub-contractors.

In Puerto Gaitan, the sub-contracted Rubiales’ workers have been forced to accept what Rodolfo Vecino called, “truly humiliating and poverty stricken” conditions. “They don’t have the conditions of a dignified life, they don’t have dignified salaries, they don’t have contracts that genuinely give the workers respectable levels of stability,” he said.

The workers have also testified to being pressured and threatened because of their association with the union and being told they would not be employed again while they were still members. “Although I am aware of my rights,” said one worker in a letter to USO, “in this case my need to survive and stay in work is more important.” 

The ENS and USO both say they have persistently informed the government of the continued use of the cooperative style sub-contracting but little action has been taken despite the harsh penalties now demanded by law. So far, one company has been hit with a $6.5 million dollar fine over its use of contractors in the African palm sector. However, the fine was only imposed after a 107-day strike and came a week before Colombia’s labor minister traveled to the U.S. to discuss progress on labor rights. According to Sanchez, several months later and the fine has yet to be paid. 

The paramilitary right and anti-union violence

After five months of strikes, blockades, occupations and violent clashes between riot police and protesters in USO’s confrontation with Pacific Rubiales, Rodolfo Vecino announced he had been threatened by four men claiming to be from the Auto-defensas (Self-defense forces). According to Vecino, the men told him he had been “sentenced” because USO’s confrontation with Pacific Rubiales made him an “obstacle to development.” 

The term Auto-Defensas refers to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an umbrella group for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary movement that controlled vast criminal networks and infiltrated the core of Colombia’s political and economic systems. Its stated mission was to combat Colombia’s leftist guerrilla groups, something it did in part by waging a dirty war against “guerrilla collaborators” – members of leftist political parties, community organizers, human rights workers and unionists. From 1986–2011, nearly 3000 unionists were murdered, and although most of the cases remain unsolved, in Colombia there is little doubt that paramilitary groups such as the AUC were responsible for the overwhelming majority of the killings.

The AUC officially demobilized in 2006 after negotiations with the government of Alvaro Uribe. However, the much criticized process gave rise to a new wave of illegal armed groups. These new organizations mostly consist of former mid-level AUC commanders and foot-soldiers that either never demobilized or simply re-enlisted after demobilization. For the most part they no longer fight the guerrillas – in some cases they even collaborate with them – but instead concentrate on drug trafficking and maintaining the AUC’s criminal networks and commercial interests. However, the end of the ideological war between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas did not lead to a significant drop in anti-union violence and Colombia remains by far and away the most dangerous place in the world for unionists. 

According to Vecino, three of these groups operate in the same areas as USO – the Rastrojos, the Urabeños and the Popular Revolutionary Anti-terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC). He believes the continuing violence against unions is because of the links between businesses and the paramilitaries. “We believe there are links in the zone,” he said. “Today there are no political lines of definition of these groups but interests around drug trafficking [and] they sell themselves to the highest bidder,” he said. “If [the company] gives them money it wouldn’t be the first time multinationals have associated with paramilitaries or common criminals to strike against the union sector.” Vecino also claimed that some of the cooperatives have ties to armed groups and are used to launder drug money.

Pacific Rubiales has adamantly denied any contact with paramilitary groups. Jorge Rodriguez, the company's head of corporate affairs, told news website Colombia Reports: "We are very sorry for the USO union. We reject any type of threat, any type of intimidation, not only to trade unionists but to anyone in the country."

Andres Sanchez agrees with the theory that the new groups continue to act as the armed wing for powerful commercial interests, pointing to how Chiquita bananas and Coca Cola have been implicated in the murder of unionists. “It is a culture where some businesses have used violence as a way of solving labor relation problems,” he said. “In Colombia, the links between paramilitaries and business have not yet been uncovered.”

For most American politicians and unionists, anti-union violence was the biggest obstacle to the passing of the FTA with Colombia and curbing that violence the LAP’s greatest promise. In the first year of the plan, 27 unionists were murdered and 2 disappeared, according to the ENS. While that remains the highest murder rate for unionists in the world by some distance, it does represent a significant reduction; in 2010, 51 unionists were murdered and 7 disappeared. However, Andres Sanchez believes the drop in homicides does not tell the whole story. “The situation with the violence has shown changes in its logic,” he said. “Now, it is not necessary to murder a unionist to successfully freeze a union. We have seen that threats, injuries and displacement have increased ...  homicides have gone down a bit [but] the situation persists.”

In the LAP, the Colombian government pledged to increase protection for unionists by broadening the coverage of its protection program, clearing the backlog of applicants for the program and speeding up the application process. According to the U.S. government this is exactly what it has done. However, while the unions acknowledge there have been some improvements, they remain critical. “They say ‘no one in the program has been killed,’” said Sanchez. “So we say the program is badly designed, because they kill the unionists who aren’t in the program.”

The unions complain that the protection program excludes too many people and that the Colombian authorities have cleared the backlog and sped up the process partly by rejecting more people more quickly. According to Sanchez, this has involved turning down unionists who have received death threats. “They say that if they threaten someone it is a salvation because generally, the ones who are murdered have not been threatened, [and] the threat is to silence someone so it is not necessary to take measures after,” he said.  

The approach has had a serious impact on USO leaders. Last August, USO received a letter informing them that protection programs for 23 leaders and a number of regional offices would either be terminated immediately or only extended temporarily. Three of those leaders were involved in organizing in Puerto Gaitan.
The LAP also pledged to tackle the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the anti-union threats and violence. Less than 10% of the more than 3000 cases of murdered unionists have resulted in convictions. Many of those convictions came not from successful investigations but from confessions by paramilitary killers and, while the perpetrators of the crimes identified themselves, the intellectual authors remained hidden.

In 2007, the Attorney General’s Office set up a specialist sub-unit dedicated to anti-union violence. However, of the 195 murders that took place between the start of the sub-unit’s operations and May 2011, only 6 resulted in convictions. The unit did not obtain a single conviction for the 60 homicide attempts, 1,500 threats and 420 forced displacements in the same period. 

The prosecutor’s office’s shortcomings in investigating anti-union violence were supposed to be addressed by 15 measures in the LAP, ranging from assigning more full time investigators to the unit to establishing victims assistance centers. As Congress approved the FTA in October, American union AFL-CIO reported that all but three of the obligations had either not been met, had been met insufficiently or there was no evidence of progress.

Progress for labor or for free trade?

Although he believes the LAP has failed to significantly improve the labor rights situation in Colombia, Andres Sanchez says the plan was an important step. “Yes, [the LAP] was to facilitate the unfreezing of the FTA,” said Sanchez, “but it was also a serious attempt.” However, he thinks the LAP will not be effective unless the government does more to involve unions in the process. “They are important measures,” he said, “expensive measures that could be effective but with this great vacuum of not taking into account the unions, they are measures that could fail.”

In the U.S, the implementation of the LAP has been monitored by the AFL-CIO, which has been critical of the government for using it to push through the FTA. “We don’t think the plan was sufficient to accomplish the goals but we do think it was a step in the right direction, a step towards meaningful change,” said the AFL-CIO’s Celeste Drake.  “Unfortunately, with the continued violence against unionists and too little progress on cooperatives and other practices like collective pacts [worker agreements used to sideline unions], it is far too soon for the US government to declare victory on the LAP and move ahead on the FTA. Colombian workers will lose whatever leverage they have to make real progress if the US moves too quickly.”

On the front line of the struggle against the violence and abuse suffered by Colombian workers and unionists, Rodolfo Vecino says he has seen very little change since the LAP came into force. “At the moment it is innocuous,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what is written there, they are dead words, they don’t have life because there isn’t anyone who is putting it into place.”

This article originally appeared in Upside Down World. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I am posting an article below that I am absolutely sure will bother some SCISSION readers.  

Oh well.

It has to do with population and the sustainability of the planet.

Let me begin by saying I do believe the Earth can only sustain a finite number of people.  I do not think we are there yet.  

I do not believe that population is THE problem.  I think capitalism is the problem.  I think that capitalism's incessant drive for accumulation of capital, and for profit is the problem.  I think capitalism is destroying the environment and heating up the world.  

Of course if there were only a couple of hundred people on the planet, I suppose the Earth could deal with capitalism for a long time.  There aren't and the Earth can't deal with capitalism for a long time.

I don't think we all need to reproduce scads more of us all the time.  I don't trust the State to have the power to decide what scads are and who gets to have how many children.

I do not believe that each person on the planet is equally destroying the planet.  

I do think if we have to cut down on people, maybe we could start with those who are behind the drive to destroy the Earth and it's climate.  You can guess who I think those people are.  It ain't the poor.  It ain't the working people.  It ain't the multitude.  It's you know who.

I do think something needs to be done real soon and I do mean real soon...or absolutely nothing will matter as far as animals and plants are concerned.  I doubt, I really do doubt, that WE will get it done.  I hope we do.  I will keep trying, but honestly, I just don't see it.

In that sense you could say this article doesn't make any difference.  In that sense you could say nothing makes any difference.

I just can't say that.

If there is a one in a million chance we can turn this  thing around in time, then you have to give it a shot.

I'm giving it a shot.

Well, I got way far away from the post below...I do that, don't I.

The following is from Climate and Capitalism.

An appeal to some supporters of women’s rights: Please stop promoting the 7 Billion scare

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by Katie McKay Bryson

Katie McKay Bryson is Acting Director of Hampshire College’s Population and Development Program. The following are her remarks at the opening session of the From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom conference in Amherst, Massachussetts, on April 13th-15th. 

I have the honor and pleasure of working with Betsy Hartmann and Courtney Hooks at the Population and Development program here at Hampshire, and of walking in the footsteps of former PopDev staff — several of whom are here this morning, all of whom I look up to.

For 26 years, PopDev has worked at an intersection of environment, development, anti-militarism, and reproductive freedom. (It’s a busy intersection.) But at the center of our work is the commitment to challenge the conventional belief that population growth is a main force behind social problems, from famine and violent conflict, to ecosystem degradation and even climate change. We strive to bring those conversations back to the structures of global inequality, colonization, and over-consumption that actually drive them.

These are very hard conversations to have. For many folks, this is about our bodies, or the bodies of people we love. For others, it challenges a fundamental understanding of the world to suggest that there are not actually too many people on the planet — but instead an unsustainable, industrially demanding level of consumption by a minority of those people.

A student asked me recently what the number seven billion means — that is, what the global population reaching seven billion means.

My answer was that, while that number may have a lot of meaning for some people, may mean something scary or overwhelming to them personally, it has no inherent meaning itself. That’s because, when you’re talking in terms of consumption, in terms of the actual use or waste of food, water, energy, space, and fuels, you’re not talking about seven billion of the same thing.

People like to tell us sometimes that “overpopulation is just math” — but that’s not true, because in terms of mathematical units, those seven billion people are nowhere near equivalent. In fact, researchers like David Satterthwaite point out that the consumption levels of two actual humans plucked at random from that seven billion may vary from each other by a factor of up to one thousand.

That’s not simple — it’s not just math.

But I’m not here to criticize the people who disagree with me, the people for whom seven billion is a big, scary, and meaningful number. I don’t like to make fun of people for being scared. And if you’re NOT scared, just sure of how you feel — I don’t think I’m going to change your mind.

What I do want to do is try to convince you: this is not the way to build a movement, around this fear of seven billion. This is not strategic. And that if we’re looking for ethical ground to build from, this is not it.

Do I believe that the planet can sustain unchecked exponential population growth? No. I also don’t think that’s what the earth is faced with, if people have access to affordable, culturally competent, unstigmatized, full-spectrum reproductive health care.

That would mean the kind of health care that has been criminalized and disrupted throughout generations of colonization and industrialization. Tell an Indigenous reproductive justice activist or Black traditional midwife when abortion was decriminalized in the US, and they’ll ask you to take a minute and think about when it was made illegal in the first place.

It is not “traditional” for women to be unable to determine when or if they will have children. It is not “traditional” for people to feel shamed, guilty, or afraid for seeking the knowledge and skills of healers in making those determinations.

In the anti-sex, imperialist, misogynist worldview of folks like Thomas Malthus, the 18th century white English clergyman who gave us the idea of unchecked population growth, people were powerless against the forces of reproduction. In that worldview, the fear certainly makes sense — but that doesn’t make it traditional, or true.

So to folks who are tying access to contraceptives and abortion, or women’s education and economic empowerment campaigns, to the need to slow population growth, I say: PLEASE STOP.

Please consider that these goals are good, and powerful, and necessary in their own right. Please recognize that when we tie people’s needs and interests to a goal held for them by other, perhaps more powerful and wealthy, people it ties the campaign to meet their needs to upholding that goal.

Specifically, it ties the value of girls and women’s lives, education and well-being to the beliefs other people have about how many children they should be having, and when.

There is nothing revolutionary about that.

And to my fellow white, middle-class, environmentally committed women activists, who are in increasing numbers seeking praise, recognition, and converts for their personal choice not to procreate, I say with all respect: please, please knock it off.

Yes, I understand that you are trying to acknowledge the importance of consumption; the truth that a child of yours will almost without doubt be a thousand times more costly to the planet than the children of the women usually held hostage to population reduction ideology. And I support and honor you in your choice to be childfree.

But your claims to moral or “green” superiority, your efforts to transform your personal decisions into campaigns pretend an ignorance of the way political power works that rings completely false.

When people with global privilege and power say something is dangerous, unethical, and unsustainable, where is it legislated? Your campaign might convince some of your actual wealthy, white, consumerist counterparts to have fewer children, but what it will definitelydo is convince them that other people should be having fewer children.

And when the chance comes to support that goal — in their daily conversations, in choosing which political candidates to support, in deciding how to engage in reproductive politics organizing, or what kind of organizations to give their money to — they will support that goal for the bodies of people of color, poor people, indigenous people, and people in the global south.

For people they do not know, cannot speak for, and whose lives and options they have a disturbingly high level of influence over.

We don’t get to pretend this isn’t the end result of population reduction conversations, campaigns, and policies. It always has been. And when we invoke the language of “overpopulation,” of “too many people,” of “can’t feed em don’t breed em,” these are the stories we are actually invoking. Whether we know it or not. Whether we are honest about it or not. Whether we care or not.

BlackPuerto Rican, and Indigenous women in the United States sterilized without their consent, or sometimes even their knowledge, for generations. Immigrant women targeted in many states by punitive legislation meant to vilify their reproduction. Romani women in Eastern Europe targeted by social workers for sterilization. HIV+ women in Kenya offeredcash bribes by US-based non-profits to go on long-term birth control. More than 300,000 Quechua women and men sterilized in Peru at the turn of this century, in a campaign with political support from USAID.

Countless other stories. Personal, painful, life-changing stories.

Teaching those histories, speaking those stories and experiences, recognizing them as something we do not have the right to casually invoke and dismiss — that is the way to build a movement. Building that movement does not stop us from working to reduce the consumption of global elites, counteract climate change, end food insecurity. I honestly believe it will help us.

So I ask you, whether or not we agree about the math or even the ethics, please find a new strategy. Because I want to fight at your side for our shared goals. But I’m just not willing to turn my back on so many people’s lived experiences in order to do it.

Thank you.