Archive for the ‘Resistance’ Category
MADRID, Spain – Lavapies a labyrinth of narrow alleys and sloping streets that attract huge crowds of people every Sunday to the Rastro flea market is also home to a large immigrant community that has long resided in Central Madrid’s cultural melting pot.
On Saturday morning demonstrators gathered in Plaza de Lavapies in a demonstration of solidarity with the neighborhood’s immigrant community who have come under recent attack by anti-immigration groups.
Activists described the gathering as a “counterprotest” following a spate of xenophobic actions carried out by ultra right-wing groups. On February 21 members of the National Democracy party fired flairs at the headquarters of the antiracism organization SOS Racism, and hung a mannequin with a noose around its neck from a balcony above. They also raised a banner marked with their insignia that read, “You denounce those who protect our border. Stop the invasion. Spaniards are also drowning. SOS Racismo, Anti-Spanish Organization”, a reference to controversial actions taken by the Spain’s Guardia Civil in last month that resulted in the deaths of 15 immigrants who were trying to swim to the coast of Ceuta in southern Spain after crossing the Mediterranean.
Tensions continued to mount this past week as the National Alliance, an ultra right-wing party affiliated with National Democracy registered to stage an anti-immigration protest in Lavapies on March 8. Reviewing the party’s request for a protest permit on Thursday, the Superior Court of Madrid refused to grant it, ruling that the protests “were intended to disturb public order, and endanger persons and property”. Cristina Cifuentes, delegate to the Government of Madrid noted that the ruling “took into account the protection of equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their place of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion, or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.”
In a manifesto, publicly available on the organization’s webpage, National Alliance espouses that only “jus sanguinis” or right of blood should be used to determine an individual’s national origin in addition to calling for the expulsion of all immigrant groups that threaten national unity.
This struck a chord with residents and activists who began organizing Saturday’s demonstration through popular assemblies and social media upon hearing National Alliance’s announcement to stage their anti-immigration rally.
“So a bunch of neonazis are going to march into the heart of Lavapies with their banners? I don’t think so. Our people are here to keep things peaceful”, said Esteban, a resident who only gave his first name.
Around 1 o’clock the gathering began to dwindle. A few clusters of participants remained standing in front of their own banners: “Not in Lavapies not in any place. We defend our neighborhoods from Racism.”
Last week fast-food workers walked off the job in over a hundred cities across the country to demonstrate against exploitation and wage slavery in fast-food corporations. Thousands of participants organised to demand a $15 an hour living wage. The tide of indignation is rising. From Walmart to Caterpillar, from Macy’s to the top six fast-food chains public outrage over naked worker exploitation is mounting. Inequality in the United States has reached fever pitch.
I’ve collated data from a series of articles and public policy reports published over the last several months to paint a picture of a nation haunted by the spectre of a growing class divide.
According to the Social Security Administration nearly 40 percent of all workers in the country made less than $20,000 last year. This doesn’t include figures on benefits such as health insurance or pensions. That’s below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and close to the line for a family of three. On average, these workers earned just $17,459.55.
The New York Times reported on The Economic Policy Institutes findings that the bottom 20 percent of American workers by income — 28 million workers — earn less than $9.89 an hour; “That translates to $20,570 a year for a full-time employee”. Between 2006 and 2012 these workers saw their income fall by 5 percent. The report also found that wages for workers at the 50th percentile — their median pay is $16.30 an hour — have also dipped, falling 3.4 percent, while pay for the top 10 percent rose 3 percent.
A glaring disconnect between the nation’s top corporate executives and their wage earning employees couldn’t be starker. While workers wages have flatlined, executive pay jumped 16 percent last year alone. Citing Equilar, an executive compensation analysis firm, The Times reported that top executives were raking in, on average, $15.1 Million.
The pay gap between CEOs and their employees working in Fast-Food is particularly staggering. Speaking on Democracy Now, Sarah Anderson, author of the new report “Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidised Pay“, gives an inside peak into how the top six fast-food corporations are taking advantage of a perverse tax loophole, one that rewards fast-food CEOs for underpaying employees. The way this “loophole” works is that it allows companies to deduct unlimited amounts from their corporate income taxes to pay their executives. The stipulation that makes this a loophole rather than broad day light robbery is that the deductions only apply to performance pay – things like stock-options, and related bonuses that come out of the cauldron of financial wizardry. Through this corporate handout fast-food executives are able to obfuscate the real costs of production.
Anderson’s study reveals that over the past two years, the CEOs of the top six publicly held fast food chains – YUM Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut), McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin Brands and Dominos – “pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible ‘performance pay,’ lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million.”
In syllogistic form it looks something like this: If companies pay their executives more, then they pay less in federal taxes. Companies pay their executives butt-loads more. Therefore tax-payers get reamed. Mind your P’s and Q’s!
Not only is this low-ball business model denying fast-food employees a living wage and affronting their dignity by setting their human value so low that affording basics like food, water, clothing and shelter is impossible without government support, a second-job or illicit income, this business model is externalising its labor expenses. One study conducted by University of California Berkeley found that more than half of frontline fast-food workers depend on at least one public assistance program costing tax-payers a whopping $7 billion annually. What it comes down to is that fast-food company profits are being mystified. The real costs of labor, distorted by government handouts fatter than fast-food itself, is hiding the hidden reality of tax-payer-subsidized profits. Regular costs of doing business are being transformed into plain profits that ascend directly to the top. While Wendy, Colonel Sanders, the Burger King and Ronald McDonald stiff their employees and pocket the spoils millions of Americans are paying them to do it.
The coals of antagonism are smoldering. The wages of working people have levelled down below the costs of their subsistence. At the same time executive pay has soared. Last weeks organised protests against mass exploitation didn’t pit industrial workers against a class of industrial elites. The economy of mass consumption swallowed that of mass production. What last weeks’ calls for dignity and fair living wages express, however, is a new iteration of class struggle. America stands divided and unequal. The spectre of class war is present. “We’ll be back”, protesters chanted as they exited a McDonalds in Times Square.
Under intense rain hundreds marched through the streets of Madrid demanding the abdication of King Juan Carlos. The event, dubbed “Jaque el Rey” was organized by 25S, the coordination committee of diverse political associations and activist organizations to mark the one year anniversary since the group surrounded Spain’s Congress of Deputies in protest of massive privatizations, public expenditure cuts, corruption and the general “plundering of finance capitalism.” Although the protesters planned to conclude their march in front of the Royal Palace police cordons set up along access streets prohibited protesters from reaching their destination. 1,400 anti-riot police formed barricades across the city using metal fences, vans and their armored bodies to confine the protesters to designated areas and limit their movement across the city. Above the roar of helicopters flying overhead people shouted “policia fascista” before turning back towards the Opera House to convene a general assembly.
Speaking through a megaphone a protester acknowledged the overwhelming police presence: We would like to break the siege and enter Plaza de Oriente, but today is not the day. The police forces impede us.” Plaza de Oriente is the public garden in front of the Royal Palace. Another protester who declined to give his name stated, “the new law recently approved in congress makes crossing the police cordon a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.” He was referring to the controversial new laws making their way through parliament that clamp down on rights of assembly. “Once implemented,” he continued, “they will be able to imprison you for up to a year if you have posted information related to unlawful protests on your twitter account.”
As the rain continued the protesters dispersed, some shouting “we’ll be back”. Waiting at Puerta del Sol, the major public square the protesters had to pass through before going their separate ways, were phalanxes of police guarding every street leading to the heart of Madrid.
Nearly 100 national delegations met in Brussels Wednesday at the international donor conference for development called “Together for a New Mali”. Opening up the conference, EU Committee of the Regions President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso called upon delegations to pledge their support for The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali. Broken down into a 12 point approach, the plan focuses on everything from ensuring “peace, security and public services everywhere” to organizing elections. But the 48 page plan that formed the basis of the conference fails to addresses the ethnic fault line that was again ripped open between sub-saharan blacks and lighter-skinned Tuaregs, Berbers and Arabs of the Saharan north by the crisis that began last January.
At the beginning of 2012 Mali descended into turmoil when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) chased the Malian military out of the northern stretches of the country, a territory it claims is the historical homeland of the peoples of northern Mali. The MNLA is comprised predominantly of ethnic Tuaregs but it’s ranks also include Songhai, Fulani, and Arabs. Exploiting the instability battle hardened islamists from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) soon took control from the MNLA terrorizing Mali’s northernmost cities and clearing the way for the foreign mujahideen fighters of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine of Timbuktu to seize control of Mali’s northern expanse. Interim President Diancounda Traore requested military assistance from France after the northern territories were taken.
The French led military intervention that was launched on January 11, 2013 was swift and received widespread support from Malians. France with military assistance provided by the US (Germany, Belgium, Canada and Denmark also provided logistical and financial support for the incursion) overwhelmed the islamist forces. After reconquering territory from the islamists the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) was charged with maintaining security in the “liberated” zones of the north. As France begins reducing troops to make way for a UN peace keeping force scheduled for deployment in northern Mali on July 1st sporadic attacks continue to shake the region.
Despite The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali’s stated objective – to ensure peace and security across the country and foster economic development – Malian leaders unwillingness to engage a dialogue with any factions that don’t renounce their claim to territories in the north seriously undermines the Malian governments affirmation that “the “essence of the Roadmap reflected in this plan incorporates the lessons learned from this crisis”.
A brief recap of the Tuareg’s 50 plus year struggle for independence, something unmentioned in The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali highlights the irony of calling this conference Together for a New Mali.
Tuaregs and other minority ethnic groups of the north have launched successive revolts against the state of Mali since it’s independence in 1960. Although the exact boundaries of this idealized state are vague, it is clear that Azawad refers to the towns and territory that Tuaregs, Songhai, Fulani and Berabiche Arabs have historically roamed through and occupied in the Saharan north. Dreams of reclaiming this vast desert territory have led to decades of tensions between the desert dwellers of the north and sub-Saharan groups in the South that have fomented rebellion.
The first major Tuareg rebellion in the early 1960’s was ultimately quashed by the Malian army relegating Tuaregs to a virtually unrepresented ethnic group in the poverty stricken north. The second Taureg rebellion in 1990′s descended the country into an effective civil war fought in Mali’s northern territory. Though that conflict ceased with the 1995 Peace Accord and the ceremonial Burning of the Guns in Timbuktu, the Tuaregs remained restive, resentful of their lack of participation in the military, and politics and frustrated by the lack of resources invested in their region. By 2006 a short outburst had gripped the north as Tuaregs attacked government buildings in Gao, citing lack of opportunity as an aggravation. According to the IMF the more fertile south of the Sahel state constitutes 95 percent of GDP, 91 percent of the population and 99.5 percent of tax revenue.
The roots of Mali’s current conflict broke through parched earth last year when Tuareg mercenaries returned to Mali heavily armed after the fallout of Qadaffi to reclaim their historical homeland from the weak government, mired with corruption in the South.
Tensions between the north and south have only been heightened by allegations of human rights abuses carried out by Malian soldiers against Tuaregs in the North. Many Malians blame the MNLA for initiating the rebellion and problematically conflate innocent civilians in the north with separatists and Al-Qaeda. Pascal Fletcher reported in Reuters this past March:
“MNLA, Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM, they are the same, they need to be punished,” said Alou Gniminou, a 39-year-old cobbler who is secretary general of the artisan market.
Having raised over $4 billion to ensure peace and security without addressing the historical grievances of a marginalized and impoverished population is bound to perpetuate future conflicts. On the issue of the restive peoples of the Saharan north the summit meeting may have been more appropriately named Together for the Same Mali.