Harper Lee’s great novel of civil rights and social justice

February 20, 2016 at 9:15 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, literature, posted by JD, poverty, Racism, RIP, United States)

Nelle Harper Lee: April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016

Megan Behrent wrote this in 2010 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Harper Lee’s  To Kill a Mockingbird. The article first appeared in the US  paper Socialist Worker (nothing to do with the British SWP):

AS NEW debates erupt about racism, provoked by the bigotry of the Tea Partiers and the rush to judgment about Shirley Sherrod, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which is being celebrated around the country with festivals, re-enactments, book clubs and even “mocktails.”

While the celebrations are in part a commercial gimmick to sell more books, they’re also a testament to the lasting legacy of a novel that is among the most read (and most loved) books of 20th century American literature. Lee’s only novel [prior to the controversial publication in 2015 of Go Set A Watchman – JD] earned her a Pulitzer Prize, has sold over 30 million copies, is taught in 75 percent of U.S. high schools, and has been titled “our national novel” by Oprah.

According to the BBC, its appeal goes beyond borders, beating the Bible (although not Pride and Prejudice) to come in fifth in a British poll for World Book Day. Among British librarians, it was the number one book they would recommend.

Narrated by Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout, an articulate 6-year-old, Mockingbird covers two years in Maycomb, Ala.–from 1933 to 1935. Dismissed by some as simply a children’s book, the novel is far more than a simple coming-of-age story in the old South. For Scout, her brother Jem and friend Dill (based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote), growing up means being increasingly at war with the world of the Jim Crow South.

It’s as an anti-racist novel of the civil rights movement, with its deep commitment to social justice and full equality–this is what earned it such a wide appeal. While the limits of the novel’s politics have often, with good reason, been the focus of debate among scholars and critics, it’s because it stands against racism and for social justice that Mockingbird is listed second among “books that have made a difference” to one’s life, according to ABC News.

Set in the 1930s and published in 1960, the novel straddles both periods and can best be understood, as Patrick Chura argues in the article “Prolepsis and Anachronism: Emmett Till and the Historicity of To Kill a Mockingbird” in the Southern Literary Journal, “as an amalgam or cross-historical montage.”

Through her depiction of the fictional town of Maycomb during the 1930s, Harper Lee exposes the poverty and class inequalities that plague the town, while introducing the reader to the segregated world of the Jim Crow South. Published just five years after the Montgomery bus boycott and the brutal murder of Emmett Till, it’s clearly a novel inspired by the civil rights movement despite being set 30 years earlier.

While Lee has stated that no one trial provided the inspiration for the trial of Tom Robinson that dominates the second half of the novel, it’s clear that two cases in particular left their mark on the novel. In 1931, in Scottsboro, Ala., nine men ranging in ages from 12 to 19 were arrested and falsely accused of rape and assault. A lynch mob of hundreds gathered around the prison, forcing the National Guard to intervene.

Over the next decade, the “Scottsboro Boys,” as they became known, were national symbols of criminal injustice in the segregated South. An all-white jury convicted all nine men, with no due process and virtually no defense. Their case would later be taken up by the Communist Party, which helped bring it to national attention, mobilizing a campaign that put the Southern criminal justice system itself on trial.

In 1955, Emmett Till’s brutal murder became a lightning rod in the nascent civil rights movement as a symbol of the barbarism of Southern “justice.” Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, was tortured and murdered while visiting Mississippi for the alleged “crime” of whistling at a white woman.

The trial of the two men responsible for his murder made front-page national news, as an all-white jury took just 67 minutes to exonerate Till’s murderers. The foreman noted, “It would have been a quicker decision…if we hadn’t stopped to drink a bottle of pop.”

Both cases galvanized a generation of activists and provided the political impetus for Harper Lee’s novel. In Mockingbird, Tom Robinson’s trial doesn’t spark a mass movement, but it nonetheless leaves an indelible print on the children’s changing consciousnesses, making it impossible for them to ever see their town–a microcosm of the South as whole–the same way again.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE FIRST half of the novel chronicles the adventures of Scout as the town and its social relations are introduced. The oppressive weight of Southern society and the alienation it produces are most clearly expressed through the unforgettable character of Boo Radley, the juvenile rebel turned adult recluse, one of the novel’s “mockingbirds,” who is the object of the children’s fascination.

Maycomb is a segregated Southern town where racism is unquestioned, poverty is everywhere, and one’s last name determines one’s place in a narrow-minded society. Being a Haverford “is synonymous with being jackass”; being a Cunningham means you’re poor, but refuse to take charity (i.e. the “good” poor); and being a Ewell means you don’t bathe, don’t go to school and do as little as possible except for signing relief checks (i.e. the “bad” poor).

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Corbyn’s petition against cuts to tax credits

July 14, 2015 at 4:39 am (benefits, children, labour party, posted by JD, poverty, protest)

In response to acting Leader Harriet Harman’s support for Osborne’s attack on poor families (also backed by leadership candidate Liz Kendall), Shiraz calls on readers to sign up to Corbyn’s petition against cuts to working families tax credits.

Get all the latest updates from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign
jeremyforlabour.takeaction.org.uk

The Tory budget means taking child tax credits off working families.

If you back my call that Labour should be opposing this plan, you can join the thousands who’ve added their names since last night and sign my petition.

It’s a policy that hits working families with more than two children.

Yesterday we heard Labour might not vote against this policy. From my campaign, we immediately said no – we must oppose this.

It is now said our position on this is to wait until we have a new leader.

I don’t want us to spend the summer waiting to oppose this policy. We must oppose it now.

This matter goes to the heart of our choice on the future of our economy, and how we oppose the Conservative Party.

If we want to get the benefit bill down, let’s invest in secure jobs and affordable homes, not squeeze those trying to make ends meet.

To win, we must set out a clear alternative to the cuts and austerity of the Conservatives.

If you want Labour to stand for a modern Britain, join our movement.

Sign the petition against the child tax credit cut and please ask your friends to join you.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Corbyn MP

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Remembering London, Orwell, and the victims of 7/7

July 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm (anti-fascism, crime, history, islamism, James Bloodworth, literature, London, murder, Orwell, posted by JD, poverty, reblogged)

Photobucket

Keeping Your Head Above Water In London

James Bloodworth’s rather moving valediction to the capital, written in 2011, on the sixth anniversary of 7/7. James’s personal circumstances have changed quite considerably (he now has a job back in London) since he wrote this and we first posted it here at Shiraz.

Dedicated to those who lost their lives to religious fascism on this day six (now nine) years ago

Yesterday I moved from London to a place called Burnham-on-sea, a banal coastal town in the South West of England where they still sell Donald  McGill-style postcards in the summertime. I moved because my family live here; and with family comes a degree of financial security. I still intend to spend much of my time in London, but I cannot afford to live there any longer. Not that is, until I find gainful, paid employment. Getting a job is notoriously difficult for the unemployed at present. A man I recently sat next to at a recruitment fair told me and others he had applied for 10,000 jobs in the past two years. He was almost certainly exaggerating – overdoing one’s own misfortune seems to be a particularly British characteristic – or perhaps disastrous at writing job applications, but nonetheless, the fact that many present were prepared to believe him speaks volumes about the state of the job market.

As it happened, I was able to land a job with my previous employer, Royal Mail. Getting the job proved to be the easy part. More difficult was getting sufficient hours to pay the rent as well as buy enough to eat. Being a Postman today is a very different job to what it used to be. Almost all new contracts are temporary and based on 25-30 hour weeks; and the amount of junk a postman is required to carry around on his back in the form of advertising is rising exponentially year-on-year. That was my impression at least. Unable to eke out anything other than an extremely meagre existence in London on £200 a week, I left the position after only two weeks in the job.

The part of London life that is perhaps the biggest burden is the cost of rent. Being shown around dingy, mould-infested bedsits only to be told you must pay £100 a week for the pleasure of living there is soul destroying; especially when it comes with the prospect of giving half your weekly pay to someone whose “portfolio” ensures they will never have to sleep in mould infested dwellings, nor break their back for £200 a week. With very little chance of ever owning a house, those with inadequate living quarters must instead navigate the rental free-market, where at the end of every tenancy getting your deposit back can be like trying to extract teeth from a bad tempered dog. Life in London can be hugely enjoyable, but it can also leave you feeling a little like Gordon Comstock, the character in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. The difference in my case is that I am not actively trying to sink to the lowest levels of society.

London famously attracts its fair share of those  attempting to “make it” in one sense or another. As someone who has recently completed a course in journalism at City University, I am fairly sure I fit into this category of person myself. Although fully aware that moving to London would not open some golden path into the journalistic profession, I did view it as the correct place to be, which it undeniably is, most of all perhaps because of the opportunities to meet people you only get in the capital.

One thing you soon start to notice in London is the extraordinary extent to which everything is about “connections”, not least in journalism. The major newspaper titles no longer advertise positions, instead preferring to find employees who are in the loop, so to speak. Most graduates instead pursue internship placements, working anything up to a year for free on a major title, performing menial tasks such as tea-making in the almost millenarian hope that one day they may get the chance to contribute something worthwhile to the paper.

Professional journalism has always been something of a middle and upper class pursuit of course. The term “BBC accent” was coined during the 20th century to describe a recognisable Home Counties diction the corporation now likes to pretend most of its employees do not in fact possess. What certainly has changed is that most of those successfully entering the profession today have postgraduate qualifications and lengthy internships under their belts, affordable only to the relatively affluent; and unlike a Home Counties accent, something which cannot be faked. The resulting journalism that
invades my own cramped bedroom every night via the television could perhaps most aptly be described as the political establishment talking to itself.

If you can handle all of this and come out of it with your sanity you may be rewarded with a job, or you may not be. What will almost certainly be the case is there will be less in the boss’s pot with which to pay you, the worker, whether in the newspaper business or elsewhere. In hard times employee’s wages inevitably take the hit before chief executive final salary pension schemes; and if that means newsrooms becoming increasingly stuffed with wealthy individuals who can partake in journalism as a leisure activity, then so be it.

The days always seemed to go by at a faster pace in London. What I mean to say is that the time actually feels like it is moving faster. I think because so much of each day is spent under the ground scuttling along, I would say at great speed, but often at a crawl, on an overcrowded tube train. The conditions often bring out the worst in people, myself included. Just the other day I got into a quarrel with a man over some trivial thing (he bumped into me as I was walking round a corner), resulting in a situation that could quite easily have resulted in a physical confrontation, foolish on my part though that would have been.

It was of course in Keep the Aspidistra Flying that Gordon Comstock declared his own personal war on affluence. Riding on the Docklands Light Railway first thing in the morning having practically embalmed my liver the night before, sat next to the businessmen with calculators working out their cash flows on the way to Canary Wharf, I have gotten, I like to think, a small insight into Gordon Comstock’s disdain for the capitalist vulgarities he sees around him.

Six years ago today a group of deranged fanatics declared not a war on affluence, but a war on London. Without dragging up tired clichés about “never forgetting” (although you shouldn’t) and lionising the “spirit of the blitz”, remembering that 52 innocent people were murdered for a fascistic ideology puts my own London-induced neuroticism into perspective. Despite his (to me anyway) disagreeable political views, Samuel Johnson was right to say that “by seeing London, [he had] seen as much of life as the world can show”, and it was this that so disgusted the murderers of 7/7 – the sheer diversity of life in the capital, whether represented by “those slags dancing around” (as some other would-be murderers called them), or the insufficiently pious Muslims who practiced at their local Mosques.

Returning to Orwell, Gordon Comstock always had to share his room with aspidistras which continued to thrive despite his mistreatment of them. Despite what happened on that day in July 2005, London continues to thrive, and is a place I will return to live soon, I hope.

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Fraser Nelson’s night with White Dee

February 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm (benefits, Disability, Human rights, media, mental health, pensions, posted by JD, poverty, television)

A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor  Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it)  applies:

Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee

Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee

My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row

What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.

Even Peter Stringfellow was present-  in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.

But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee.  She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.

I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.

PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 06.46.44

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Lampedusa tragedy: the EU must act

October 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm (Europe, Human rights, immigration, Italy, posted by JD, poverty, Racism, tragedy, UN)

From France 24:

Body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores, lie in the harbour of Lampedusa

Above: some of the bodies at the dockside

Italy calls for EU help after Lampedusa boat tragedy

Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.

Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.

By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.

But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.

“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.

Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.

“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

‘A European tragedy’

Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.

Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.

There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.

Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.

“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.

A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.

‘These deaths did not need to happen’

Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.

François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.

“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”

In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.

Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.

At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”

The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.

Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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The Marikana Mine Workers Massacre – the War on the Poor

August 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm (africa, Human rights, Jim D, murder, police, poverty, protest, reblogged, stalinism, thuggery, unions, workers)

An article by abahlali baseMjondolo: http://abahlali.org/node/9035

Shiraz Socialist is not in a position to judge whether this article is fair and/or accurate, but we publish it in the interest of information and debate:

After the brutal, heartless and merciless cold blood bath of 45 Marikana mine workers by the South African Police Services:  this was a massacre!

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The amount of poverty is excessive. In every township there are shacks with no sanitation and electricity. Unemployment is hovering around 40%. Economic inequality is matched with political inequality. Everywhere activists are facing serious repression from the police and from local party structures.

Mining has been central to the history of repression in South Africa. Mining made Sandton to be Sandton and the Bantustans of the Eastern Cape to be the desolate places that they still are. Mining in South Africa also made the elites in England rich by exploiting workers in South Africa. You cannot understand why the rural Eastern Cape is poor without understanding why Sandton and the City of London are rich.

Mining has been in the news in South Africa recently. Malema, a corrupt and authoritarian demagogue who represents a faction of the BEE elite, has been demanding nationalisation. Progressive forces inside and outside of the alliance oppose Malema because he represents the most predatory faction of the elite and is looking for a massive bail out for his friends who own unprofitable mines. What we stand for is the socialisation, under workers’ control, of the mines. We also stand for reparations for the hundred years of exploitation.

Things are starting to change but not for the better. Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s nephew and Zondwa Mandela, the former president’s grandchild, and many others with close family ties to politicians have become mining tycoons overnight. China has joined the bandwagon as well, plundering our resources.

Frans Baleni, the General of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) earns R105 000 a month. NUM has become a route into high office in government and even to places on the boards of the mining companies. The union is rapidly losing all credibility on the mines. It is clear that it is now co-opted into the system and is part of the structures of control. It is the police that take NUM to address the workers. Baleni’s betrayal of the workers has made him a very rich man – a rich man who condemns and tries to suppress the struggles of the poor. It is no surprise that workers are rejecting NUM, trying to build an alternative union or acting on their own without any union representing them. The workers are right to chase the NUM leaders away from their strikes.

The Marikana Mine is the richest platinum mine in the world and yet its workers live in shacks. Most of the slain workers are rock drillers, the most difficult and dangerous work in the mine. They do the most dangerous work in the mine and yet they earn only R4 000 a month. Through the blood and sweat in the mines they do not only produce wealth that is alienated from them, they also produce the fat cats, which wine and dine on naked bodies and call that sushi.

The workers who occupied the hill came from many places including Swaziland and Mozambique. But most of them came from the rural Eastern Cape, from the former Bantustans where people live their lives as a living death under the chiefs, without work, without land and without hope. Every Rand that they win back from the capitalists is another Rand coming to the poorest part of the country. The part of the country that has been most devastated by the mines over the last century. We celebrate every Rand that the workers have taken back from the capitalists and fully support their demand of a salary of R12 500 a month. Will Baleni or Nzimande or Zuma accept R4 000 a month? If not why should anyone else?

The strikers see the NUM leaders as traitors. They delinked from the NUM because they saw that they needed to delink from the alliance of capitalists and tendepreners that run the ANC. The decision to delink was very courageous! We will have to delink in every sector if we are going to build a real movement for change.

Workers under the tripartite alliance are being sundered from socialism; they are only being encouraged to vote for the ruling party. Nothing is being done to fuse social consciousness in their struggle. They are encouraged to participate in sensational politics, the politics of who should lead and who should be removed. They are encouraged to see communities and workers that organise independently as their enemies.

It is easy to decide not to decide. It is much harder to make a decision pregnant with risk and promise. For miners to delink from the likes of Baleni and tripartite alliance was a courageous decision. They understand that courage is an important element of all struggles. They understand that there is no quick fix in the struggle for a just society, a society that will respect and uphold the rights of workers and nature, a society that will be ruled on the principle of each according to his needs. This society is based on each according to his political connections with the elite that has captured the ANC and its alliance partners.

If the strikers were protesting under the banner of the tripartite alliance they wouldn’t have been slaughtered. COSATU strikes have often been violent but their members are not shot like animals. In fact the campaigns to support Zuma in his rape and corruption trials were full of threats of violence and yet Zuma supporters were not gunned down.

Before the miners occupied the hill they made a vow that no bullet will deter them. They were willing to fight and die to get a fair share of the wealth of this mine for themselves and their families. What this demonstrates is that these were people who were aware of the risks that their decisions entailed, who thought about such risks carefully, guided by their conscience and concluded that they were willing to face the consequences that could arise.

Hellen Keller’s words ring true “There is no such thing as a complete security, and if there was what fun would life be. Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success”. She adds “To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate and adversity is strength undefeatable.”

The immense courage of the miners that gathered on Nkaneng hill was tremendous. They were prepared to take a real stand. They were prepared to face real risks. We do not see this courage amongst the left. In fact most of the left has abandoned real struggle in real communities for meetings and conferences and emails. The left has become something that NGOs run. It is about bussing poor black people into meetings that they have no control over and that are very far removed from the realities of our real struggles. It is about educating the poor and not about fighting with the poor. When real struggles happen in places like the shack settlements of Zakheleni, eTwatwa or Kennedy Road most of the left is not there. But when there is a big conference they are all there.

The ANC government has killed workers for demanding a salary increment from a notoriously exploitative and very, very rich company. The workers earn only R4000 per month doing the most dangerous work. The ANC president and cabinet ministers earn not less that R2 million per year. And on top of that there is corruption everywhere. Our politicians are part of the global elite. The lowest ANC deployee earns not less than R20 000 excluding benefits.

The Marikana mine workers lived in shacks with their families. The president of the ANC has recently built a mansion in his homestead, a mansion that cost tax payers not less than R200 million.

It is the ANC government that shoots and kills protesters when they are fighting for the assertion of their humanity. They recently killed Andries Tatane. They have killed at least 25 others on protests since 2000. If you are poor and black your life counts for nothing to the ANC.

What lesson can be learnt from the Marikana mine workers’ massacre? The ruthlessness of this government does not diminish but on contrary increases with the number of workers and unemployed who starve. They are criminalising our struggles and militarising their police. It is clear that anyone who organises outside of the ANC, in communities or in the workplace, will face serious and violent repression from the party and the police.

The NUM and the SACP have made it very clear which side that they are on. By supporting the massacre and calling for further repression against the workers they have made it quite clear that they are on the side of the ruthless alliance between capital and the politicians. They have declared, very clearly, that they support the war on the poor. Their reactions to the massacre are a total disgrace. No credible left formation in South Africa or anywhere in the world can work with the NUM or SACP again. The decision of the miners at Marikana to delink from the corrupt and ruthless politics of the alliance has been vindicated.

Things will not get better but will get worse. When the elite’s power is threatened they will respond with more and more violence. War has been declared on the poor and on anyone organising outside of the control of the ANC. We are our own liberators. We must organise and continue to build outside the ANC. We must face the realities of the situation that we confront clearly and courageously. Many more of us will be jailed and killed in the years to come.

What they have done can never be forgotten nor forgiven.

Ayanda Kota

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NB: today’s Morning Star gives a very different account of events, backing the NUM and accusing the AMCU (the new union) leadership of, in effect, provoking the violence and also of “collaboration” with the mining companies. As we have already stated, Shiraz Socialist does not know the truth of any of this – though it has to be said that given the Morning Star‘s record and its close links with the SACP we’re not inclined to take their word for anything.

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Beatrix Campbell and the “invisible” women of Wigan Pier

July 14, 2012 at 6:30 am (Guardian, Jim D, literature, Orwell, poverty, stalinism, Uncategorized, women)

Here is the single most famous image in Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier:

“At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her  —  her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to watch her eye. She had a pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when say that ‘it isn’t the same for them as it would be for us’, and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her  —  understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”

Here is Beatrix Campbell in Thursday’s Guardian:

“George Orwell’s elegiac Road to Wigan Pier celebrated the heroic, martyred men who dug our coal. He chided the middle class for not noticing these heroes who brought heat into their homes. Orwell’s chauvinism rendered invisible the women who were still working at the pits around Wigan, and who lay and lit the fires that warmed not only the homes of the middle classes but also the miners themselves.”

Of course, Campbell learned to hate Orwell while in the “old” British Communist Party. The CP had form when it came to spreading lies about him.

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Thanksgiving thoughts from Jazz Lives

November 23, 2011 at 8:36 pm (blogging, humanism, jazz, Jim D, music, poverty, solidarity, United States)

Michael Steinman, over at Jazz Lives, has been reflecting on the meaning of that old American institution, celebrated tomorrow: Thanksgiving. He starts out, quite understandably, giving thanks for jazz and all the pleasure it’s brought him. Some nice Youtube clips, too, of some great present-day musicians playing the old standard Thanks A Million (lyrics by Gus Khan, melody by Arthur Johnson).

But then Michael moves on to some more general points about love, humanity, common decency and taking action for a better world. Wonderful stuff, and I make no apologies for simply reproducing the closing paragraphs:

…And a footnote, nothing preachy.  I teach English — literature and writing — to four classes of college freshmen and sophomores, and I met with them this last Monday and Tuesday.  At the end of each class, I looked at them very sternly and said, “I have a Thanksgiving homework assignment for you.”  I can’t describe the collective skepticism in the room, because I never give “homework,” and asking students to “do work” over a holiday when the college is closed seems to them a violation of their basic rights.  And some of them know my deadpan humor.  (Others were simply waiting for me to stop talking so that their holiday could begin, and I understand this completely.)

I said, “I assume many of you are going off to have some sort of meal with family or friends this holiday?” and many of them agreed.

“OK,” I said.  “Here’s your assignment.  Find someone in that room, someone you love.  TELL that person you love him or her.”

Some of them giggled; they all looked relieved.  Maybe that’s the most important thing I will teach them this semester.

One more four-bar break.  I do, of course, have a secret purpose in all of this.  If everyone got in the habit of acknowledging their gratitude, it would be a world full of people saying and thinking THANK YOU! and I AM SO FORTUNATE, which would be lovely additions to the cosmic atmosphere.  And perhaps then we could move into the next phase: noticing those who have less to be thankful for, whether they are homeless people on the street, the Chinese workers who suffer to make our technology (see Mike Daisey’s play about Steve Jobs if you have a heart!) . . . the list is longer and sadder than I can say.  And we could then move from noticing to taking action.  What a wonderful world, then, indeed.

Wishing you all happiness — and not just on Thursday.  JAZZ LIVES wouldn’t have a reason to exist without you.

PS: Ricci Ricardi on the very greatest version of Thanks A Million.

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The establishment thought they could carry on laughing at the poor on Jeremy Kyle for ever. It turns out they couldn’t

August 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm (James Bloodworth, poverty, riots, socialism, the cops, youth)

By James Bloodworth; cross-posted from ‘Obliged to Offend’

The political reaction to the riots has already begun, with Cameron flying back
from his holidays amidst increasingly enthusiastic talk of the military being
deployed on British streets. Last night the rioting spread out of London and
erupted in Birmingham, Nottingham, and if reports are to be believed, Bradford.
The reaction of the media and politicians thus far has been a demonstrable sense
of not knowing how to react. As one Tweeter put it: “Simply repeating that the
looting is ‘pure criminality’ is like telling us the sky’s blue. We know that.
Why are our youngsters pure criminals?”.

It is a thoroughly dispiriting
sight to see large swathes of London engulfed in flames. Widespread looting is
taking place and the police everywhere appear overwhelmed by the sheer numbers
involved. To make a slightly fatuous comparison, it brings back memories of the
school playground on those once-a-year occasions when a sort of mass
disobedience erupted, the very psychological stability of the crowd
disintegrating as events unfolded.

Jody McIntyre has been sacked
from his position on the Independent for allegedly “inciting violence,” after a
Tweet encouraging the rioters; calls are being made to shut down London’s mobile
phone networks and target those using social networking sites to plan more
unrest; and the Etonions leading the country have been forced to fly back from
their European villas. I think I failed to mention that the stock market is in
freefall, too.

The response of the establishment thus far has been to
close ranks. Both Labour and the Conservatives are speaking in a unified voice
in a desire to attach themselves to the groundswell of reaction that is surely
on its way. Old Labourites who have accepted the “inevitability” of the
free-market can be heard dismissing the grievances of the rioters as “not
genuine,” rendering true the cliché that what was in the past “a response to
injustice” is always in the present “totally unacceptable”.

The reaction
of most comfortably-off people has been to dismiss the violent scenes as the
result of an over-indulged poor, giddy on benefits, feral and spoiling for
violence. This impression of the underclass, if you wish to call it that, is
acquired from television shows such as Jeremy Kyle and the reactionary press. In
reality, most people rarely come in to contact with those languishing on
Britain’s inner city council estates.

One ex-police officer on
television today remarked that the rioters appeared to be motivated by, not so
much a cause, as sheer, naked greed. The “greed is good” mantra is about the
only thing that has trickled down to the
very bottom of society in recent years. As Sean Matgamma points out:

“The deprived young people…have come out on the streets to fight
those they see as their enemy, the police, and to grab a little instant
prosperity…They live in a society where great robbers and swindlers are
admired whether or not they are legal, semi-legal or downright criminal. Where
they enrich themselves without any regard for other people.”

It seems quite likely that within a few days the talk will
move from reaction to offensive, spurred on, if I can say it without causing
confusion, by the forces of reaction. The law-and-order brigade is already
making itself visible in the guise of talking heads on the BBC news. The rioting
will give them the excuse to offer simplistic yet satisfying solutions to the
more complex problems of widespread poverty and the resulting hopelessness.
There are already reports of black people in London who are wearing new trainers
being stopped and asked for receipts, with the threat of arrest hanging over
their heads if they don’t provide them.

There is a lot of class hatred
swilling around right now; and however unpleasant the looting and destruction of
livelihoods is, the truth is that the hatred and spite directed for many years
at the underclass is being reflected back at so-called civilised society in the
crooked mirror of deprived estates up and down the country.

And therein
lies the establishment’s mistake: They thought they could go on laughing at the
poor on Jeremy Kyle for ever. As it turns out, they couldn’t

The Guardian has published a complete list of all the action, here. H/t: Roger

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World Cup: the exaltation and the exploitation

June 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm (africa, homelessness, Jim D, poverty, sport)

Even a dedicated anti-sportsperson like me cannot help but be moved by the obvious joy and pride that the World Cup has brought to many South Africans, including (if the media coverage can be trusted) many poor blacks . And, of course, football (soccer) has a long and honourable role in in the anti apartheid struggle.

But there’s another side to it as well: evictions and hyper-exploitation.

THE SOCCER WORLD CUP IS HERE BUT THE POOR CONTINUE TO ‘FEEL’ HARDSHIP

The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and allies will be embarking on a march to coincide with the opening of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The march will start at 09h00 from Ben Naude Drive, opposite Fons Luminous Combined School Assembly Area and will proceed along the Rand Show Road/Aerodrome Drive towards Soccer City. The APF urges all community and other civil society organisations who share our concerns and who wish to add their voices, to join us. We have no intention of disrupting the World Cup but simply to voice our discontent/concerns.

Despite the APF’s attempts to overturn them, conditions have been imposed by the Johannesburg Metro Police (in the name of ‘national security’) such that the march will not be allowed to proceed to Soccer City itself but will end at a designated ‘speakers corner’ some 1,5 kms away from the stadium. A memorandum of grievances and demands from communities that make up the APF has been drawn up and all the main local, provincial and national government offices have been contacted to come and receive this memorandum.

The Soccer World Cup is here and the official theme is “feel it, it is here”. However, despite the fact that most people love the game of soccer, poor communities are only feeling the hardship of South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup and the neoliberal policies which continue to ensure that poor people remain poor.

The massive amounts of public funds used to build new stadiums and related infrastructure for this World Cup have only served to further deny poor people the development and services they have been struggling for over many years. Millions remain homeless, unemployed and in deep poverty, thousands in poor communities across South Africa continue to be brutally evicted and those struggling to survive (like street vendors) are being denied basic trading rights and are criminalised.

Yet, our government has managed, in a fairly short period of time, to deliver ‘world class’ facilities and infrastructure that the majority of South Africans will never benefit from or be able to enjoy. The APF feels that those who have been so denied, need to show all South Africans as well as the rest of the world who will be tuning into the World Cup, that all is not well in this country, that a month long sporting event cannot and will not be the panacea for our problems. This World Cup is not for the poor – it is the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor.

For the past fifteen years the majority of South Africans have continued to suffer the inheritances of the apartheid regime and neoliberal macro-economic policies. General living conditions, largely due to a lack of basic services and employment opportunities, have gone from bad to worse to bad. These problems are very real and they range from:

* the huge backlog in formal housing (parallel to the increased growth in shack settlements in all main urban and peri-urban areas)
* lack of access to electrification in many poor areas (upwards of 30% of South Africans – most of whom are poor – remain unelectrified and are forced to use dangerous substitutes such as paraffin and candles)
* a poor quality public education system (in which educational resources are scarce and a serious crises in the provision of basic services at public schools continues)
* a dire lack of proper recreational facilities and programmes in poor communities (contributing to a range of serious social problems, especially amongst the youth)
* the immense number of impoverished, unemployed people across the country (despite the promises of job creation through the World Cup, over 1 million have lost their jobs over the past two years – including those workers casually employed to build the new stadiums – and the real unemployment rate is around 40% – a national crisis!).

The APF wants to make it clear that we love the game of soccer. Soccer is a predominately working class sport that is enjoyed by billions around the globe. But this World Cup does not represent those billions but rather the interests of a small elite who have manipulated the beautiful game and have used this World Cup to make massive profits at the expense of poor ordinary South Africans who, after all, are the ones who have paid – through the public purse – for what so few will enjoy.

South Africa is the most unequal society in the world and we believe that addressing this socio-economic inequality must be the top priority of our country, our government is addressed. One World Cup – no matter how much we enjoy watching soccer – is not going to address or solve our fundamental problems. The more we continue to allow the elites to hide the realities of our country, to falsely claim that this World Cup will provide lasting social unity and leave a positive developmental ‘legacy’ and to spend public funds to do so, the farther we move from confronting the real problems that the majority in our country experience every day of their lives.

For comment/further information contact:

Sithembiso Nhlapo 078 148 0153

dubheza@gmail.com

Mashao Chauke 082 212 6518

chaukemash@gmail.com

Sipho Magudulela 074 938 2145

si.magudulela@webmail.co.za

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