Faculty Letter Against Shared Services at UT Austin

Dear President Powers,

We are deeply concerned about the Business Productivity Initiative and its impact on the university community and on our ability to teach and engage in meaningful research. We are dismayed that the Initiative has already invested more than $4 million paid to Accenture Corporation in order to “sell” the University on the Plan — money that could have been used to meet our core missions and enhance staff services and staff support. We question the Plan’s potential for cost saving; we have been given inaccurate statistics and graphs throughout the campus discussion period.

Implementation of the proposed shared services plan, whether touted as a series of “pilot” experiments or done wholesale, will inevitably endanger one of the foundations of this university’s greatness—the sense of community that joins together faculty, staff, and students. Our multitalented, abundantly generous, highly skilled, deeply committed and invested staff is an essential element of our community.

People choose to work at The University of Texas at Austin because they believe in its educational and social missions. Adoption of a shared services model will weaken departments’ commitment to those missions by devaluing bonds between faculty and staff that develop from working toward common goals. We oppose any plan that removes dedicated staff from departments and consolidates the specialized services offered both students and faculty at the departmental level. The stability and coherence of staff at the departmental level ensures effective and productive intradepartmental communications, and ideally facilitates relations between faculty, staff, and our students. We are already short staffed and should hire more departmental support, not less. We oppose the use of attrition and forced retirement as money saving ventures.

We who work at the university know our staff as generous and deeply committed professionals, as parents and caretakers, community volunteers, as fellow citizens of Austin, Travis County, and the state of Texas. These are people who help make our campus the compassionate, intelligent, diverse, vibrant, and enviable place that attracts visitors to the Forty Acres; their support of faculty and students forge the lifelong bonds of attachment to and affection for the university that are its very lifeblood. We should choose to invest in our campus community as a whole because that investment strengthens our city, its families, and our common spirit.

For many of us, it is very difficult not to see the university’s embrace of the Business Productivity Initiative as part of the overly zealous, profit-motivated corporatist mandate, which is likely to erode public institutions and public services across this country. The greatest tragedy of these privatization schemes is that they destroy the democratic spirit by calculatedly de-valuing our common wealth and the very notions of collective endeavor, mutual support, and the common good.

These are inestimable values; they matter to us, greatly. We implore you to withdraw your support of the Shared Services Plan.

Letter authored by,

Mia Carter, Associate Professor of English, University Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor; University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teacher; 2014 Alcalde “Texas Ten”; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Julius G. Getman, Earl E. Sheffield Regents Chair; Professor, School of Law; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Anne Lewis, Sr. Lecturer Radio-Television-Film; 2010 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teacher; Executive Board Member TSEU-CWA 6186

Faculty Signatories:

Michael Adams, Interim Director, James A. Michener Center for Writers; Director, Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program; Associate Professor, Department of English

Kamran Asdar Ali, Fellow of Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Chair; Associate Professor, Director, Academic Program, Department of Anthropology, Department of Asian Studies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, South Asia Institute

Lynn A. Baker, Frederick M. Baron Chair in Law

Samuel Baker, Associate Professor of English

Phillip Barrish, Associate Professor; Director, Lower-Division Literature Program, Department of English

Mary Beltrán, Associate Professor, Dept. of Radio-Television-Film; Affiliate, Women’s & Gender Studies, Center for Mexican American Studies

Daniela Bini, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature; recipient of President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award; Harry H. Ransom Teaching Award; Liberal Arts Council Teaching Award; Cavaliere (Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana) conferred by the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.

Daniel Birkholz, Director, English Department Honors Program; Associate Professor of English; Recipient, President’s Associates Teaching Award

Lynn E. Blais, Leroy G. Denman, Jr. Regents Professor in Real Property Law

Hans C. Boas, Raymond Dickson, Alton C. Allen, and Dillon Anderson Centennial Professor; Director, Linguistics Research Center, Department of Linguistics; Department of Germanic Studies

 Brian A. Bremen, Associate Professor of English; Provost’s Teaching Fellow

 Barry Brummett, Charles Sapp Centennial Professor in Communication; Department of Communication Studies Chair

Erika Bsumek, Associate Professor of History

 Thomas Buckley, Specialist, Rhetoric and Writing; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Ben Carrington, Associate Professor of Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

 Evan Carton, Joan Negley Kelleher Centennial Professor in Rhetoric and Composition; Professor, Dept. of English

Oscar Cásares
, Fellow of Susan Taylor McDaniel Regents Associate Professorship in Creative Writing; Associate Professor of English

Dana Cloud, Associate Professor; Director of Graduate Studies; Fellow to Everett Collier Chair in Communication Studies

 Cary Cordova, Assistant Professor, Department of American Studies; Faculty Affiliate, Center for Mexican American Studies

Ann Cvetkovich, Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professor of English; Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies

 Diane Davis, Director, Digital Writing and Research Lab; Professor of Rhetoric & Writing

Janet M. Davis, Associate Professor; American Studies, History, Women’s and Gender Studies

Lesley Dean-Jones, Associate Professor of Classics

 Noah De Lissovoy, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction

James Denbow, Professor of Anthropology

Rasha Diab, Assistant Professor, Department of Rhetoric and Writing. Affiliate: Departments of English and Middle Eastern Studies

 Brian Doherty, Senior Lecturer, English; Member TSEU-CWA 6186

Ariel Dulitzky, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Human Rights Clinic; Director, KBH Center for Latin American Law, University of Texas School of Law

 Tarek El-Ariss, Associate Professor of Arabic Studies and Comparative Literature, Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Susan B. Empson, Professor, STEM Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Karen Engle, Minerva House Drysdale Regents Chair in Law, Co-Director and Founder Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

 Lester Faigley, Robert Adger Law and Thos. H. Law Professor in Humanities, English/Rhetoric and Writing

Toyin Falola, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities; Distinguished Teaching Professor; Professor, Department of History

Linda Ferreira-Buckley, Lillian and Tom B. Rhodes Centennial Teaching Fellow; Associate Professor of English, Rhetoric & Writing

William E. Forbath, Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law

Steve Friesen, Professor, Department of Religious Studies; President¹s Associates Teaching Excellence Award (2011)

Karl Galinsky, Floyd A. Cailloux Centennial Professor of Classics; University Distinguished Teaching Professor; Max-Planck International Research Award 2009

Joshua Gunn, Associate Professor, Communication Studies

 Frank A. Guridy, Associate Professor of History

Barbara Harlow, Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature with courtesy appointments in Comparative Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and affiliations with Women’s and Gender Studies, South Asia Institute, and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice (UT Law School); Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Jim Hankinson, Professor of Philosophy and Classics

John Hartigan, Director, Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies; Professor, Department of Anthropology

Edeltraud Harzer, Senior Lecturer, Asian Studies

Kurt Heinzelman, Professor of Poetry and Poetics, Department of English; Editor-in-Chief, TSLL; Editor-at-Large, Bat City Review

 Susan Heinzelman, Director, Center for Women and Gender Studies; Associate Professor of English

 Lars Hinrichs, Fellow of J. R. Millikan Centennial Associate Professorship in English Literature; Associate Professor of English Language and Linguistics

 John Hoberman, Professor of Germanic Studies; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

 Neville Hoad, Associate Professor of English

 Juliet Hooker, Associate Director for Scholarly Programs, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies; Associate Professor of Government and African and African Diaspora Studies

Heather Houser, Katherine Ross Richards Centennial Teaching Fellow in English; Assistant Professor of English; Member TSEU-CWA 6186

 Don Howard, Associate Professor, Radio-Television-Film, UT3D Director

Madeline Hsu, Associate Professor, History

 Thomas K. Hubbard, Professor of Classics; Fellow of the Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Professorship in the Humanities

John Huehnergard, Professor, Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism

Martin Kevorkian, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, English

Terri LeClercq, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, retired and Norman Black Professorship in Ethical Communication in Law School of Law

 Richard M Lewis, Associate Professor and Area Head for Screenwriting, Radio Television and Film

 Tatjana Lichtenstein, Assistant Professor, Department of History

 Allen MacDuffie, Fellow of Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Assistant Professorship in English; Assistant Professor of English

Geoff Marslett, Senior Lecturer, Radio Television Film; Board of Regents’ Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Alberto A. Martínez, Associate Professor, Department of History

Anne M. Martinez, Assistant Professor, Department of History

Tracie Matysik, Associate Professor, Raymond S. Dickson Teaching Awardee, Department of History

 Mona Mehdy, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

 Jeffrey L. Meikle, Stiles Professor in American Studies, Professor of Art and Art History

Sofian Merabet, Assistant Professor of Anthropology; Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Mark Metzler, Associate Professor of History

Karl Hagstrom Miller, Fellow of George W. Littlefield Associate Professorship in American History; Associate Professor, American Studies and History

Julie Avril Minich, Leslie Waggener, Sr. Centennial Teaching Fellow; Assistant Professor, Department of English

Michelle Monk, Department Administrator, Radio-Television-Film; Member of CWA-TSEU 6168

Lisa L. Moore, Interim Director, The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies; Professor of English

Steven A. Moore, PhD, RA, Bartlett Cocke Regents Professor of Architecture and Planning; Director, Graduate Program in Sustainable Design, School of Architecture

Monica Muñoz Martinez, PhD, Carlos E. Castañeda Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Mexican American Studies

 Patrick Olivelle, Professor, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair Emeritus in the Humanities

Antonella D. Olson, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Italian, 2012 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teacher, 2009 Texas Exes Teaching Award, 2001 Harry H. Ransom Award

 Angela Naomi Paik, Fellow of Mary Helen Thompson Centennial; Assistant Professorship in the Humanities, Department of American Studies, Center for Asian American Studies, Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Department of African and African American Studies, Rapoport Center for Law and Human Rights; Member TSEU-CWA

 Tom Palaima, Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor; Director PASP Classics; UT Alumni/ae Association’s Jean Holloway Award for Excellence in Teaching 2003-4; Plan II Chad Oliver Teaching Award 2004-5; MacArthur fellow 1985-90; Member of CWA-TSEU 6168

Deborah Palmer, Associate Professor, Bilingual/Bicultural Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction; faculty affiliate Center for Mexican American Studies; Member TSEU-CWA

 Deborah Paredez, Katherine Ross Richards Centennial Teaching Fellow in English, Associate Professor of English

Carla Petievich, Visiting Professor, South Asia Institute

Lucas A. Powe Jr., Anne Green Regents Chair in Law; Professor of Government

Megan Raby, Assistant Professor, Department of History

 Guy P. Raffa, Associate Professor of Italian; Member of CWA-TSEU 6186

PJ Raval, Assistant Professor, Department of Radio-Television-Film

 Ann Reynolds, Associate Professor, Art History

 Matt Richardson, Fellow of Chair in African and African Diaspora Studies; Associate Professor African and African Diaspora Studies and English

Sharmila Rudrappa, Associate Professor, (Future) Director Academic Program, Department of Sociology

John Rumrich, Arthur J. Thaman and Wilhelmina Dore’ Thaman Endowed Professor in English

Elizabeth Scala, Associate Professor of English

Nancy Schiesari, Professor, Radio-Television-Film

 Megan Seaholm, Senior Lecturer, Department of History

Martha Ann Selby, Professor of South Asian Studies; Member of CWA-TSEU 6186

Dina Sherzer, Professor Emeritus, Department of French and Italian

Joel Sherzer, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology

 Snehal Shingavi, Fellow of Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Assistant Professorship in English; Assistant Professor, Department of English

Christen Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology; Department of African and African Diaspora Studies

Shannon Speed, Associate Professor of Anthropology; Director, Native American and Indigenous Studies

 James Spindler, The Sylvan Lang Professor; Professor, UT McCombs School of Business

Ellen Spiro, Professor, Department of Radio Television Film

Janet Staiger, William P. Hobby Centennial Professor Emeritus in Communication and Professor Emeritus of Women’s and Gender Studies; Chair of Faculty Council, 2009-10

Kathleen Stewart, Professor, Anthropology

Pauline Strong, Professor of Anthropology; Director, Humanities Institute

Circe Sturm, Fellow of Dallas TACA Centennial Associate Professorship in the Liberal Arts; Associate Professor of Anthropology; Native American and Indigenous Studies Faculty

Cynthia Talbot, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies; Member TSEU-CWA 6186

 Kim TallBear, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Eric Tang, Assistant Professor, African & African Diaspora Studies; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Rabun Taylor, Associate Professor of Classics

Shirley Thompson, Fellow of Stiles Associate Professorship in American Studies; Fellow of Chair in African and African Diaspora Studies; Associate Professor of American Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Luis Urrieta, Jr., Associate Professor; Curriculum & Instruction, Mexican American Studies;
Native American & Indigenous Studies; Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

Angela Valenzuela, Professor, Department of Educational Administration; Center for Mexican American Studies; Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Director of TCEP and Associate Vice President for School Partnerships

Kamala Visweswaran, Associate Professor of Anthropology, South Asian Studies, Asian American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies; Member of TSEU-CWA 6186

Jennifer Wilks, Associate Professor of English & African and African Diaspora Studies; 2011 Alcalde “Texas Ten”

Hannah C. Wojciehowski, Professor of English

Helena Woodard, Associate Professor, Department of English; Faculty Affiliate, J. Warfield Center for African and African Diaspora Studies

Jo Worthy, Professor, Language and Literacy Studies, Curriculum and Instruction

 

 

 

 

 

Pamphlet on Maruti-Suzuki workers (translated from Hindi)

Long live the revolution!

Long live workers’ unity!

Stop the repression and harassment of the Maruti-Suzuki workers!

Stop declaring workers criminals with one-sided, incomplete inquiries!

Bring charges against the agents of management for stoking the violence!

Comrades,

The events of July 18th at the Manesar plant of Maruti-Suzuki are representative events that reveal the condition of workers in today’s age.  These events have brought forward [revealed] the suffocating atmosphere of the nation’s factories and the smoldering anger of its workers, but it has also stripped the mask from the real face of the government, the Indian Administrative System [IAS] and the police machinery [apparatus].  These events have also exposed the vast [vicious] anti-worker character of the capitalist media and at the same time rather than being unbiased and independent as they greatly claim they are really the mouthpieces [megaphones] of the ruling classes.

And just as the electronic media has conducted one-sided reporting, they too have gotten down to the business of characterizing the workers as a mob bent on violence, anarchy, and murder.  Ignoring all established procedures [rules] of law, the police made all 3000 workers suspects and has begun rounding them up.  At the same time, not a single member of management has been interrogated.  There is a growing sympathy for the members of management who were injured in the scuffle, but there is no concern for the injured workers.  The workers have repeatedly insisted that management brought in thugs, but neither the police, the administration [IAS?], nor the media have not found it relevant to look into that.  Just as in the incidents at Graziano in NOIDA or Allied Nippon in Sahibabad, here, too, there has been a one-sidedness before any investigation, meaning the workers have been charged as criminals.

Certainly, the events that took place at the Manesar plant on July 18 were neither coordinated nor could they have been part of any strategy of struggle [resistance].  It was an explosion of long-brewing anger among the workers whose fuse was lit by the mischief [plotting] of management.  From the media to the government, no one bothered to learn why the workers’ anger unleashed itself in this manner.  Last year, during the campaign [movement] of three long waves of actions from June to October, there was not a single incident of violence on the part of the workers.  The workers were inside the factory for thirteen days in June, and then outside the factory for 33 days in September when they held an encampment, and once again in October when several parts of the plant were under workers’ control.  Despite being goaded by management, there was not a single incident of property destruction or violence.  The same workers that conducted a long campaign with uninterrupted nonviolence—why did these very workers become violent [fierce]?

Looking at the condition of Maruti-Manesar over the course of the last several months makes everything clear.  Last October, when the management used the filth of bribes, government intimidation and false promises to force a compromise and destroyed the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union by buying off its leadership with bribes, it proved that it did not have good intentions.   In order to stop the never-ending stream of losses, they wanted to put an end to the strike by any means, but they had no intention of fulfilling the workers’ demands.  The course of events over the last eight months has demonstrated that this is true.

 

{PARTIAL TRANSLATION … I will update this throughout the day}

May Day Appeal from Jan Sansad


Our Labour ! Our Strength ! Workers Power Zindabaad !
Labour Day : An Appeal from Jan Sansad
Dear Friends,
Zindabaad !
Every year the May Day is celebrated by millions of workers around the world commemorating the the hard earned workers rights after years of struggles. It is a celebration but also a time to remember the victories, defeats and challenges infront of the workers movement even as we move ahead. Workers of the world unite ! The slogan has assumed much importance and the meaning of work and labour has also gone through significant changes over years. Today nearly 93% of the workers are in the unprotected and unorganised sector who are still having to fight for their basic rights : social security, job security, pension, health and education facilities, eight hour working day, mandatory leaves, fair wages, minimum wages, right to unionise and others.

A hard fought right to form independent unions by the workers is under threat and so are other rights in the era of global capital pushing for maximum exploitation of labour and complete privatisation and contractualisation of work in neo liberal reforms era. Millions of agricultural workers, NREGA workers, construction workers, fish workers, forest workers, hawkers, and many other non-traditionally recognised forms of workers remain outside the social security net and face problems with the authorities in forming their own unions across the country. In the same way millions of workers working in manufacturing sector face the same problem most recent being Maruti factory in Gurgaon, Rockman and Satyam in Dehradun and elsewhere.

Various studies, surveys and reports have accepted the fact that this group of workers contributes more than 60% to the GDP. From road construction crews to domestic help, they work long hours for less than the minimum wage, receive no compensation for work-related injuries; and they receive no social security. About 44% of all unorganised urban workers are construction workers but they have no social security or job security, most of them migrants who stream in from remote villages where agriculture can no longer support their growing numbers. It is unfortunate that even though nearly 60% of the population is engaged in the agriculture, fishery and forestry but their total contribution to the GDP has come down to nearly 16%, indicating worst agrarian crisis fuelling large scale farmers suicide and migration.

These issues and others were discussed at Rashtriya Jan Sansad held in New Delhi (March 19 – 23), attended by nearly 7,500 people from 20 States over five days. Member’s of People Parliament agreed that time has to demand rights and justice for the working class people who are running the economy today but remain unprotected and unorganised. Some of the significant resolutions from the discussions on the subject are following :

• The honest producers of this country – workers, artisans, fisher folks, hawkers, and others in unprotected and unorganised sectors continue to be oppressed and often victimised. The 93% of workers who have been denied social security pensions should be given protection equivalent to the organised and secured sectors. There should be access to food, water, shelter etc. to everyone equitably. Every service, every resource or development benefits should be equitably distributed.
• The Provisions for pension must be extended to the 93% workers in the informal and unorganised sector workers, the current provisions are not at all adequate. The inequality in various pension schemes in different states must be removed.
• There should be an end to inequality in the country. The politicians are working only for the interests of a handful of people, not for the interests of the masses. There shouldn’t be a difference of more than 1:10 in the income of the people and a ameeri rekha should be determined. Tax should be levied on property and assets, not on small productions or incomes.
• Right to Unionise is a fundamental right and it must be respected irrespective of the sector, work, etc.
• All forms of forced labour must be stopped effectively. There is need of comprehensive social protection for all unorganised sector workers and fair wages must be given to them. The minimum wages must be raised to a living wage level and it must be ensured that these are remitted on time. Minimum wages should be as such that the whole family is provided for by the income of one. The below poverty line families list should be enumerated by the members of the gram sabha or the electorate of the urban areas.
• There must be provisions for Rain Basera (shelter homes) for daily wagers and migrant workers. The migrant workers in cities who have faced eviction must be duly rehabilitated.
• Under NREGA, work must be provided throughout the year. Corruption must be stopped in NREGA and different pension schemes must be introduced.
• The ambiguities and contradictions in central and state labour laws must be removed. The labourers must be adequately represented in the labour boards.
• The use of machines in PMGSY must be stopped and manual labour be implemented so that the employment can be provided to workers and their skills can also be upgraded.
• There is a need for changes in the hawkers policy and provisions must be made for them to be allotted shops and given rehabilitation as per requirement.
• The domestic workers must be brought under the sexual harassment act and be provided protection and security under various acts.

Many other issues were discussed during the Jan Sansad which will take forward the struggle for the development with justice and equity. The programmes emerging from the Jan Sansad will be carried forward in coming days by the movements and community groups in their regions and areas through struggles, moblisations and advocacy.

On this Mazdoor Diwas on May 1st our constituent groups organise to demand the rights, dignity and security for the 93% of the working force of this country and pave the way forward for a most just and humane society. We hope you all will join us in taking forward the struggle for a life and livelihood of dignity for millions of working class people of the country.

In Solidarity,

Medha patkar, Prafulla Samantara (Orissa), Sandeep Pandey (Uttar Pradesh), Dr. Sunilam (Madhya Pradesh), Gautam Bandopadhyay (Chattisgarh), Suhas Kolhekar, Vilas Bhongade, Subhash Lomate, Sumit Wajale (Maharashtra), Shaktiman Ghosh (National Hawker Federation), P Chennaiah, Ramakrishna Raju (Andhra Pradesh), Gabriele Dietrich (Tamilnadu), Vimal Bhai (Uttarakhand), Rakesh Rafique, Manish Gupta, Rupesh Verma (Western Uttar Pradesh), Prof. Ajit Jha, Rajendra Ravi, Bhupendra Singh Rawat, Vijayan M J, Madhuresh Kumar (Delhi), Gurwant Singh (Punjab), Anand Mazgaonkar (Gujarat), Mahender Yadav (Patna, Bihar), Nizam Ansari (Bokaro, Jharkhand), Geo Jose (Kerala) and others
(Jan Sansad Coordinating Committee)

Open Letter to UT Administration: Drop the Charges against peaceful protesters

(Please tweet me at @sshingavi if you want to sign on)

To the University of Texas, Austin administration:

We, the undersigned, members of the UT community are troubled by the arrest of peaceful protesters at the Office of the President on April 18, 2012.  Non-violent student protest ought to be met not with criminalization but with negotiations and dialogue.

Students were sitting-in to protest the University of Texas’s agreements with Nike (among others) under the notoriously discredited Fair Labor Association, a fig-leaf masquerading as a watchdog institution which has done next to nothing to eliminate sweatshop labor conditions but has done much to revive the ailing image of massive corporations like Nike and Disney.  Students took lessons that they learned in the classes taught here at UT, in departments like anthropology, geography, ethnic studies, sociology, political science, and philosophy and applied them to the real world situation of the conditions of their own education and asked the university to commit to real monitoring agencies under the Workers’ Rights Consortium.  Instead of being praised for their convictions, the administration has sought to vilify them for “trespassing.”

Once again the University of Texas will be embarrassed in the national media for its continuing preference for contracts with apparel producers with known ties to sweatshops over the educational and civic mission that the university is supposed to stand for.  Once again, the University of Texas  will be associated not with the bold slogan that “what starts here changes the world,” but with the banal repetition of the worst excesses of power at the expense of democracy, courage, and justice.

We think that it is time for this pattern of responding to protest with police to stop in favor of a policy of active engagement with student concerns.  We demand that the charges against the students arrested today be dropped.  We demand that the University revise its policies in dealing with student protesters.  But most importantly, we demand that the university drop its commitment to the Fair Labor Association and actively support the Workers’ Rights Consortium.

Sincerely,

Aaron Goldman, Community Art Education, UT College of Fine Arts

Adrian Reyna, 3rd year B.A. Government, University of Texas

Alejandro Márquez, MA candidate in Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and Global Policy Studies (LBJ)

Alida Perrine, Graduate Student in Latin American Studies, ILASSA Vice President, University of Texas – Austin

Albert A. Palacios, M.S.I.S., B. Arch., Film Curatorial Assistant, Digitization Technician, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Alejandra Cerna Rios, Graduate Student, Social Work, LBJ school

Alejandra Spector, Senior, Spanish and Portuguese

Alex Barron, Assistant Professor, St. Edwards University. UT graduate.

Alexandra Kaminsky University of Texas at Austin ’11, JD Candidate Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ’14

Allison Ramirez, Master’s candidate in Global Policy Studies (LBJ School) and Latin American Studies (LLILAS)

Albert Anthony Palacios, LLILAS Graduate Student

Allison G. Heinrich, The University of Texas at Austin ’14, Philosophy & Journalism

Alma Buena, University of Texas at Austin, Undergraduate, Government and Mexican American Studies

Amanda Austin, M. Ed., University of Texas Alumni

Amanda Gray, PhD Student, Department of American Studies and the Center for American Studies

Amy Price, UT grad student

Anabella Coronado, Ph.D. Candidate in Latin American Studies

Andi Gustavson, Doctoral Candidate in American Studies

Angelica Perez, Alumnus, Liberal Arts

Anindya Dey, University of Texas, Graduate Student

Anne Kuhnen, UT Undergraduate and President of Amnesty International-UT Chapter

Anne Lewis, Lecturer, Radio Television Film, University of Texas, Austin

Anthony Norton – UT Graduate, Spring 2010 – B.A.(Hons) Philosophy & Government. Current M.A. Philosophy student at Brandeis University

Axel Bohmann, English Department (grad student)

Ayesha Akbar, The University of Texas at Austin ’14 Psychology, Middle Eastern Studies, Arabic

Barbara Harlow, Professor, Department of English

Beliza Torres Narváez, Ph.D. Candidate 2012, Performance as Public Practice, Department of Theatre and Dance

Bernth Lindfors, Professor Emeritus, Department of English

Blanca Caldas, Ph.D. student Bilingual education/Department of Curriculum and Instruction UT Austin

Brett Anderson, History Department

Brian Stross, Professor of Anthropology, UT Austin

Caitlyn Collins, PhD student, Department of Sociology

Caitlin Eaves, Alumnus, Arabic and Religious Studies

Camilo Perez, Undergraduate, University of Texas

Carly Kocurek, doctoral candidate, Department of American Studies

Cecilia Cruz, Alumnus, Sociology and Latin American Studies

Charlotte Nunes, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, UT-Austin, Graduate Assistant, Bridging Disciplines Program

Chase Newton, Neurobiology Student at UT

Chris Ledesma, Alumnus, Spanish and Geography

Christopher Bernhardt Undergraduate Student, University of Texas-Austin

Chuck Michelson, doctoral candidate in Neuroscience, UT Austin

Claudia Chavez, graduate student, Anthropology Department

Colleen McGue, MA/MSCRP from UT 2011

Consuela Wright, Psychology Undergrad, UT

Czarina Thelen, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology

Dan Heiman (Curriculum & Instruction)

Dana Carina Wenker, Recent UT Grad, Linguistics

Dana Cloud, Associate Professor, Department of Communication

Daniel Rudin; MFA student in Studio Art

Dave Kalloor, former grad student, UT-Austin

Deanna Kilgore, Senior Linguistics major.

Dorota Biczel, PhD Student, Dept. of Art and Art History

Eliot Tretter, Geography Department

Elizabeth Anderson, International Relations & Spanish undergrad

Elizabeth Gonzalez, President of Voices for Reproductive Justice, UT Austin.

Elizabeth Velasquez, Doctoral Student in Anthropology

Eric Covey, Doctoral Candidate, Department of American Studies

Erica Mathews, Anthropology undergraduate at UT

Erick Rodriguez, Hispanic Studies Senior and Information Technology Services Sr. Student Associate.

Fatima Jafri, Undergraduate Advertising, University of Texas at Austin

Gabriel Daniel Solis, University of Texas, Alumnus

Gretchen Murphy, Professor, Department of English

Guillermo Hernandez Martinez, University of Texas, Journalism and History major.

Heather Houser, Assistant Professor, Dept. of English

Howard Cunningham, retired, UT Health Center, Tyler

Jacinto Cuvi Escobar, Department of Sociology

Jaime Puente, MA Candidate CMAS

James Ward, School of Social Work

Janet M. Davis, Associate Professor of American Studies, History, and Women’s and Gender Studies

Jason Brownlee, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin

Jennifer Kelly, Ph.D. Student, American Studies

Jessica Martin, graduate student, Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Jessica Osorio, LLILAS M.A. student

James Branson, Organizer, Texas State Employees Union, CWA local 2186

Jennifer Scott, Doctoral Student, School of Social Work

Jesus Joslin, Government undergraduate

Jocelyn Charvet, MSSW candidate, Class of 2012

Joao Costa Vargas, African and African Diaspora Studies Department

John Lawler, Undergraduate, Geography Department.

Jorge Antonio Renaud, MSSW Candidate, May 2012

José García, Cultural Studies in Education, TA, PhD Student

Josh Haney, Master of Public Affairs Candidate, 2012, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Josh Walther, University of Texas, Austin

Joy Learman, Assistant Instructor and Doctoral Candidate, School of Social Work

Julia Lee, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Center for Asian American Studies

Julian Munoz Villarreal, Middle Eastern Studies and Sociology undergraduate

Julianne Wooten, Environmental Science – Geosciences undergrad at UT

Justin Olaguer, Class of 2011, Philosophy BA

Kalyan Venkatraj, Gov/afr lah undergrad

Karen D. Burke, University of Texas, Alumna

Karin Samelson, journalism undergraduate senior

Katherine Adams, UT Austin ’14 Mechanical Engineering

Kathleen Burns, English Honors & Biology (EEB), UT undergraduate

Katya Kolesova, Graduate Student, Women and Gender Studies

Kayli Kallina, Class of 2014, Psychology, Education

Ken Zarifis, President, Education Austin

Kiran Ahmed, Doctoral Student, Department of Social Anthropology

Kristen Hogan, Associate Director & Lecturer, Center for Women’s & Gender Studies

Kyle Landrum, Honors Philosophy Undergrad ’12, UT Austin

Lainey Brown, Butler School of Music, University of Texas at Austin

Laura Evans, University of Texas, Undergraduate

Leah Gilman, Undergraduate, Copyedit & Design

Leslie Cunningham, retired, Texas State Employees Union

Lisa Moore, Associate Professor, Department of English

Loretta Capeheart, Ph.D. Associate Professor Justice Studies, NEIU and UT class of 1990 (College of Liberal Arts)

Lucia Duncan, Film+Radio+Teaching

Lucian VIllasenor, Mexican American Studies undergradute

Lynn Romero, Undergraduate, Latin American Studies, UT Austin

Lynz Costa-Adams, Master’s of Science in Social Work- August 2012

Madhavi Mallapragada, Assistant Professor, Radio Television Film

Marcus Denton, LBJ School of Public Affairs, Dec. ’12

Mary Grace Hebert, recent graduate of the College of Communication

Matt Richardson, Assistant Professor, Department of English

Megan Coxe, UT Austin

Melanie Wilmoth Navarro, MSSW, UT School of Social Work, 2011

Melissa McChesney, MSSW Student

Michelle Uche, International Socialist Organization

Mike Corwin, UT staff, Texas State Employees Union

Mohammad Hamze, History and Religious Studies honors undergrad

Mohan Ambikaipaker, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication, Tulane University, UT Alumnus

Mona Mehdy, Associate Professor, Section of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Monica Teresa Ortiz, writer, UT alum, English Literature ’03

Mubbashir Rizvi, Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas Austin

Nancy Cardenas Government and International Studies Undergrad.

Nandini Dhar, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature, University of Texas at Austin

Naomi Paik, Assistant Professor, Department of American Studies

Nazia Hussain, Anthropology undergrad, ’12

Neil Foley, Professor, Department of History and American Studies

Nhi Lieu, Assistant Professor, Department of American Studies

Nicole Powell, UT Austin

Noah de Lissovoy, Professor, Department of Education

Parvathy Prem, University of Texas, Graduate Student

Pedro Suarez, University of Texas, Undergraduate, Mathematics and Mexican American Studies

Penny Green, Senior Lecturer and Sociology Honors Advisor, Department of Sociology

Racheal Rothrock, UT student

Ramon Mejia, History & Religious Studies, UT Austin

Rebecca Dyer, UT alumna, English PhD 2002

Rich Heyman, Lecturer, Department of Geography and the Environment

Robert Jensen, professor, School of Journalism

Roberta R. Greene, MSW, Ph.D., Professor & Endowed Chair, School of Social Work

Roberto Flotte Anthropology Honors/Mexican American Studies/Native American Studies

Rocío Villalobos, MA, College of Education, May 2011

Sade Anderson, UT graduate Student of African Diaspora Studies & Anthropology

Sam Naik, Government and Latin American Studies, University of Texas

Sammy Zoeller, BA Journalism, 1971

Sandra Pacia, UT Undergraduate Student, School of Social Work

Sarah Ihmoud, Graduate Student, UT Austin Department of Anthropology

Sarah Sussman, TA English Department

Sarah Shah, UT Alumna

Sean Sellers, MA, Latin American Studies, 2009

Shannon Speed, Assistant Vice President for Community Engagement, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Co-director, Native American and Indigenous Studies

Sharmila Rudrappa, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

Shelby Krafka UT undergrad

Shirley Thompson, American Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin

Snehal Shingavi, Assistant Professor, Department of English

Somy Kim, Ph.D. Candidate, Comparative Literature

Sona Shah, Staff, Center for Asian American Studies, Alumna, University of Texas

Sucheta Arora, Graduate Student, Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology

Susan Youssef, alumna

Suzanne McEndree, student, School of Social Work

Suzanne L. Schulz, Ph.D. Candidate, Assistant Instructor Department of Radio-Television-Film

Tatiana Reinoza, PhD student, Art History

Teodora Vassileva, Human Biology Undergrad, UT Austin

Tiffani Bishop – Student

Trevor L Hoag, Doctoral Candidate in English, Rhetoric and Writing

Trisha Padayachee, UT School of Social Work, Candidate for MSSW

Vanessa Martinez, M.A. Latin American Studies, M.S. Community and Regional Planning

Virginia Raymond, JD, PhD — UT alumna/former lecturer

Vivian Newdick, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology

Wanjira Murimi, University of Texas, Undergraduate, Women’s & Gender Studies

Wasiq Sheikh, 2011 Graduate, Electrical Engineering

Will Patterson, B.S. Radio-TV-Film, Class of 2010

Zachary Dyer, Master’s Candidate in Latin American Studies

Zachary Guerinot, UT Undergraduate

Zachary Moore, Psychology Student and OccupyUt member

Zulema Nevarez, Sociology Student

The politics of general strikes in India

General Strike in India 

On February 28th, India’s major trade union federations declared a general strike, with early estimates of workers participating in the one-day industrial action in the tens of millions, making it the largest strike in India since the nation’s independence in 1947.  This is the first time that the trade union federations (which are all affiliated to one or another political party) have come together to protest against “neoliberal economic and labor policies” pursued by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress Party) government; the action was also supported by more than 5000 independent unions.

This reveals two important things about India that are usually forgotten by the western media.  First, that India is not merely a seething mass of desperation composed of peasants and the abject poor; it has a massive working class with some real organizations that are capable of bringing out their own forces.  And second, that the economic realities of neoliberal growth do not go unchallenged indefinitely.  Even in the places where the vice grip on workers has been tightened to extreme levels, people still find a way to fight back.

Among the demands that the unions made were the establishment of a national minimum wage, the ending of temporary employment (what are called “contract laborers” in India) in favor of permanent jobs, more effort to curb runaway inflation (hovering at around 7.5%), guaranteed pensions, and an end to the privatization of publicly owned companies.

The banking and insurance sectors were hit the worst by the strike, but other workers including dockworkers, postal workers, and transportation workers were heavily hit.  The coordination of a national strike of this scale marks the beginning of a new stage in the confrontation between labor and capital in India, as the benefits of India’s boom have produced a sclerotic economy, with benefits accruing to the few at the top.

Despite threats from the central government and a last minute offer to negotiate, the strike proceeded and brought out millions.  In places like Kerala, the state government threatened workers with a “dies non” order (no work-no pay), while in other places like Delhi, the government attempted to enforce the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to force workers in industries like power generation back to work.  In West Bengal, cadres of Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) also attacked and injured strikers.

Slumdogs, Millionaires, and Manmohanomics

For the past decade, India has been the darling of the economic pundits globally, with massive growth rates and a burgeoning middle-class whose consumptive powers have fuelled the national mythology of “India Shining.”  According to current estimates, the Indian economy grew at around 7% last year and is projected to grow again at a similar rate in 2012.

At the same time, the benefits of that growth have been massively skewed.  As Katherine Boo’s new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, demonstrates, the growth of the Indian economy has happened at the same time as the growth of its underclass.  Mumbai, the symbol of India’s new economic power and famous for its massive film industry, is now commonly referred to as “Slumbai”; more people live in slums in Mumbai than not, where they work in the hyperexploitative informal economy (if they work at all).

Agricultural reforms implemented in the past twenty years have immiserated people in the countryside.  Last year alone there were more than 15,000 farmer suicides as a result of indebtedness and bad harvests.  Desperate farmers then migrate to the larger cities and towns where they form the massive reserve army of the unemployed which drives down wages.

At its core, the national strike is a response to these conditions and the pinch that workers are feeling throughout the country.  Last year there were some spectacular job actions at places like Maruti-Sazuki in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, where workers fought a pitched battle for wages, and occupied the factory for almost two weeks.

At the same time, the official line of the Congress Party-led Government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is that neoliberal economic policies are going to continue.  At the heart of the fight with the unions is the controversial Pension Bill in Parliament currently, which would tie the pensions to market-driven financial instruments and put employee retirements in jeopardy.

But also at issue are Singh’s plans to sell off major state holdings in order to finance repayments on international loans and budget deficits.  Singh did, after all, cut his teeth as the economic architect of India’s neoliberal reforms which began to be implemented when he was the Finance Minister under PV Narasimha Rao.

It is the twin pressures that workers in India feel, both from the immiseration into which they are sinking from below (from inflation and from a growing underclass which they are trying desperately to unionize) and from above (in the form of neoliberalism and attacks on union rights) which has produced the conditions for greater militancy in India.

The Official Trade Unions

There are two reasons though that this confrontation between labor and capital in India will not be decisive, which are also the reasons that the unions have only put forward a tentative one-day strike with a rather long and vague list of demands.  First, the official trade unions are all connected to various political parties, and these massive days of protest are usually connected to political gamesmanship that the parties play against one another.

The unions at the head of the strike were dominated by the official left in India, which is still dominated by Stalinist and Maoist political organizations.  So in India there is the All-India Federation of Trade Unions (run by the CPIML-Janashakti), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (run by the CPIML), All India United Trade Union Center run by the Socialist Unity Center, the All India Trade Union Congress (run by the CP), Center of Indian Trade Unions (CPIM), United Trade Union Congress (run by the Revolutionary Socialist Party).

Now since many of these parties are no longer revolutionary parties in the long run, they tend to play a dampening rather than developing role on class struggle.  Which is not to say that workers don’t fight back, they do, but that their fights are limited from the top.  In 2006, there was an attempt to form a federation of Independent Trade Unions called the New Trade Union Initiative, which holds out some of the best possibilities for an independent trade union movement in India.  Many of their unions also participated in this one-day action.

Second, there are also reactionary trade unions like the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sabha [this was corrected thanks to a comment below -NRI] run by the right-wing BJP and the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena, run by the ultra-right Shiv Sena which brought out their members.  Both of these unions also participated in the strike, largely because the leftist unions kept the slogans vague enough that the right-wing could use the one-day strike as cover for the purported populist politics.

Part of the reason that the right and the left were able to come together (as they have in the past, as under the Janata Party government in the 1970s) is because they are both now in the opposition to the Congress Party’s UPA coalition which runs the central government.  In fact, despite agreeing early on to support the strike, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (run by the Congress Party) withdrew, after the party leadership put substantial pressure on it.  “The strike is politically motivated and illegal.  We will oppose it on Tuesday,” said Ashok Chaudhary, the national president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).

But this alliance can only be temporary and opportunistic, as the BJP and Shiv Sena are both pursuing neoliberal policies (in Gujarat and Maharashtra respectively, where both of them play much larger regional roles).  It also sets forward a danger, since the right wing has not been shy about stoking up ethnic and communal hatred in times of economic contraction.

Communist Party and West Bengal

Part of the reason that the strike took place in as spectacular a way as it did was because of the routing the official left received at the polls in the last elections.  While they were in power in places like Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, they were able to play a dampening role on industrial actions.  Once they were removed from office, they have found it possible to release the discontent that their members face, in order to embarrass the current government, but only up to a point. Too much worker militancy threatens their own ability to contain mass anger, which is the only real thing that they have to offer in exchange for capital investments in their economically impoverished states.

It was also in those places where the strike was strongest and was able to do more than simply industrial work-stoppages but actually stop much traffic and business throughout major cities.  In other places throughout the country (Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka) the effects of the strike were not as strongly felt.

But the most significant showdown in the strike was clearly in West Bengal, where Mamata Bannerjee attempted to flex against her muscle against what she called “the politics of bandhs” (shutdowns of cities).  Having recently beaten the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at the polls, Bannerjee is now in the position of having to do the bidding of large capital, despite having organized strikes and bandhs herself in the past.

In Kolkata, the police were out in droves attempting to get people back to work, while Bannerjee’s TMC sent many of its members to break up rallies and pickets throughout the city.  Bannerjee came to power on the basis of a negative referendum on the CPM, when it tried to raze entire villages in order to make way for a manufacturing campus in the countryside for industrial giants like Tata Motors.  Bannerjee’s opportunistic about-face (now doing the work of the same capitalists that she claimed to oppose) will only expose her to greater challenges.

What the general strike reveals is the simultaneity of ordinary working class anger at the economic and political system in India as well as the inability of the major left groups to deliver anything but symbolic and token changes in their lives.  The general strike revealed that the working class in India is quite large and has the muscle to topple capitalism, but it will require new forms of political and union organization than the ones that are currently on offer.

Paul Frolich’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg

The book is quite interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its passionate defense of the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg from her many detractors. I read the book as a companion piece to Reform or Revolution, which a number of people in Austin are reading at the moment.

While the book has many things to recommend it, I found two arguments to be particularly provocative (either because I haven’t heard them before or because they didn’t strike me the first time I heard them – I can’t decide which).

First, Frolich argues that the historical conditions were against the German Revolution (1918-23) from the beginning:

And to top it off, there was another fact of the greatest significance: history provided the movement with no direct or imperative objective that could be brought about only by revolution. Peace and land were the two great slogans which had carried the Russian Revolution to victory, but in 1918 peace was already a fact, and defeated German imperialism was prepared to pay anything for ti, providing it could retain power at home; and although a broad section of the small-hold peasants made a rather precarious living, land-hunger was not strong enough to rouse the rural areas into revolt. Having been kept until then in complete servitude by Junkers and rich land-owning peasants, the agricultural labourers made only hesitant use of the ‘coalition right’ and their new-found political freedom. The working class was certainly in favour of the socialization of the economy, but the greater part of the masses came to realize what this demand meant and how it could be carried out only after all chance of doing so was irrevocably lost (263).

Frolich adds to this grim picture the following proviso: “However, there was one factor which forced matters to a fateful showdown: sections of the working class were armed.” This makes it appear as though the German Revolution was really only ever about the disarmament of the German working class so that German capitalism could force through its own agenda on the German workers. If the revolutionary prospects were not really all that good, then all revolutionary action in Germany in 1918 really did amount to putsches.

Second, Frolich argues about the pivotal events of January 1918, “The truth is: there was no Spartakus uprising … The truth is that the January fighting was cautiously and deliberately prepared and cunningly provoked by the leaders of the counter-revolution.” (285) This argument seems to flow from the first (that the advantage was in the hands of the bourgeois reaction and that there could only have defensive actions by the working class at the moment).

This is fairly different from the picture painted by Pierre Broue, for instance, who argues that there was an attempt to push forward in 1918 when the KPD did not have a decisive advantage (due in part to the adventurist politics of Liebknecht).

Part of Frolich’s argument seems to be the result of focusing on Rosa Luxemburg’s role in the events of 1918, but there does seem to be an important debate here about whether or not any party would have been able to push the German Revolution to a decisive conclusion early on. The proletariat of course gets another go at it in 1923, when conditions are more favorable.

Kerala Nurses on Strike

Nurses across the south Indian state of Kerala are on rolling strikes for pay increases against private hospitals which have been unwilling to meet the minimum wage demands of the state. Just as one strike ends (at SH Hospital in Paynkulam) another one begins (at Amrita Insitute of Medical Sciences). In many instances (like at Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church Medical College) nurses are winning their demands, in part because of the strength of the unions and in part because of the outpouring of support they are receiving from individuals everywhere. Despite demands of 85% increase in wages, throngs of people rallied in solidarity with the nurses.

The strikes were quite militant, causing hospitals in many instances to close down entirely. Even more astonishing has been the rapid growth of the nurses’ unions. Despite being relatively unorganized, the newly minted United Nurses’ Association has grown remarkably, adding over 400 branches in the first months of 2012. Part of the reason for this is clearly the conditions under which nurses labor. Despite the state’s fixed minimum wage at Rs. 9000, most nurses make barely half of that, and new “trainee” nurses make Rs. 1000 in some conditions.

Here’s how Nissar Adoor describes working conditions for Keralan nurses:

Some of the issues faced by the nurses include the following. All hospital management says duty time is only 8 hour, but in reality this hardly the case with most of them made to work beyond the duty time. Most of the hospitals are not providing medical insurance or free health coverage especially given the fact that nurses are more prone to get diseases and infections. Many of the hospitals pay a very low wages, as low as Rs. 1800 a month (which is nowhere near even pathetic the labour minimum wages of around Rs. 6000). While hospitals charge patients anywhere from Rs. 1500-2500 (per day) as nurses fee but nowhere is this reflected in the nurses salary. Private/ corporate hospitals demand bonded contracts, which if broken, nurses are forced to pay more than Rs. 50,000. Even the so called ISO certified hospitals hire untrained nurses thus bringing down the wages of skilled nurses and putting the lives of patients at risk. Male nurses are denied opportunities often because of flimsy reasons, while they cleverly over exploit female nurses by under paying and over-exploiting them. Nurses are punished on flimsiest grounds, cuts in their salary or double duty time are rampant. Besides all these, none of them enjoy any basic rights as workers and are denied trade union rights. Moreover, many nurses are made to endure psychological abuses from the management.

The strikes in Kerala come on the heels of strikes that happened last year in Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta, where similar conditions provoked industrial actions in hospitals there.

In February, hospitals demanded that the Kerala state government impose sanctions against nurses using the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) which requires certain necessary jobs continue during industrial disputes. The Kerala state government responded by accusing the hospitals of doctoring the books and misrepresenting nurses’ wages. Local courts, though, did provide hospitals with police to keep the nurses out and to keep operations going in some place.

The main demands of the strikers include:

  • Minimum wages
  • Extra pay for night shifts
  • No overtime without extra pay
  • No bonded labor
  • Ending the use of student nurses as free labor

Image from Gulf News.

The most puzzling part of the story has been the support from parties across the political spectrum. The CPI and CPM are not big surprises, nor are the Congress and the Congress-led INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress). But somewhat surprising are the BJP and the Shiv Sena, who declared hartals in support of the nurses. My best guess is that the massive popularity of the issue has meant that everyone has jumped on the bandwagon (though luckily this means that the nurses are likely to move from success to success even if this muddies the political waters in the long-term).

Constitutional Crisis and Power Struggle in Pakistan

English: Asif Ali Zardari.

Image via Wikipedia

On February 13, the Supreme Court of Pakistan charged Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani with contempt for his failure to ask the Swiss government to reopen the money-laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari. The move has sparked a wide-spread debate about the legal crisis that this creates inside of Pakistan and whether the legal proceedings are being backed or influenced by the Pakistani military, which stands to gain massively if the current government is derailed.

The legal issues are fairly straightforward: back in the 1990s, when the late Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister, Asif Ali Zardari received kickbacks from two Swiss-based companies in exchange for exclusive government contracts. Zardari was jailed for eight years in Pakistan on corruption charges, though he was never found guilty. In Pakistan, Zardari is commonly still referred to as “Mr. Ten Percent” (though sometimes the figure is substantially larger) in reference to his well-known corrupt dealings.

In 2003, Swiss courts found Zardari and Bhutto guilty of criminal money laundering, though both denied it. They left for voluntary exile in Dubai in order to avoid further prosecution in Pakistan. Bhutto and Zardari were only allowed to re-enter Pakistan after then President (and General) Pervez Musharraf signed under American pressure the National Reconciliation Ordinance which granted the pair amnesty for all charges of corruption. The NRO was part of the deal that was cut between Benazir Bhutto and the US to allow her to return to Pakistan and replace the widely unpopular Musharraf. When Zardari became President after his wife’s assassination, he asked the Swiss government to set aside the case against him, which it did.

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance violated the constitution and struck it down. (This happened only months after the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and others were reluctantly reinstated by Zardari after being sacked by Musharraf). This re-opened the corruption issue and brought the Pakistani judiciary into open conflict with the Prime Minister. When Gilani closed ranks behind Zardari (both are members of the Pakistan People’s Party – PPP), the Supreme Court charged him with contempt. If convicted, Gilani would face jail time, be dismissed from his post, and be ineligible to run for Pakistani office again. If criminal charges are opened up against Zardari, too, the entire government will fall. Elections are not scheduled to take place until early next year.

The PPP has been attempting to claim that this move by the Supreme Court is actually a military coup in slow motion. They are not entirely wrong, since high ranking officials inside of the Army have been quite pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision. The Army has, of course, been gunning for the PPP and the civilian bureaucracy after the twin embarrassments of the Osama bin Laden debacle (it is now also coming to light that Musharraf may have known where bin Laden was all along) and the scandal surrounding “memogate.” At the behest of Zardari, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US dictated a memo to Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani American businessman, that sought American military assistance against the Pakistani military and the ISI, both of which it claimed was plotting a coup against the civilian government. When the memo was revealed, the military was adamant in calling for Haqqani’s resignation (which it got) and even for his head. Gilani has also embarrassingly had to repeat for the news media that he does not believe that there is any risk of a coup, after taking a harder line against military meddling in civilian affairs earlier in January.

Supporters of the judiciary, on the other hand, have been touting the Supreme Court’s independence as proof that this has nothing to do with bringing the military back into power. The Supreme Court, in their opinion, is the one institution that still has some legitimacy in Pakistan and its pursuance of the corruption charges against the President is an important part of the move towards cleaning up government. At the same time, the Supreme Court has also gone after the military in recent months. It recently ordered the ISI to produce seven men who had been disappeared illegally, bringing the spy agency under judicial review for the first time. It has been his aggressive push around these two issues – corruption and disappearances – that has earned Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary his populist reputation. The recent hearings about the human rights violations committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan on the floor of the US Congress are also a product of the campaigns of this new, activist judiciary.

But should the Supreme Court succeed in convicting Gilani, the PPP would merely replace him with another party loyalist, forcing the Supreme Court to repeat its actions and deadlock the government. There is rampant speculation that this political game of chicken would provide the appropriate cover for the Pakistani military to retake control of the government, something that it has had no hesitation in doing in the past. While the judiciary has wide backing, it is certainly not in a position to offer an alternative government to the current one.

The entirety of this legal debate though rests on three intractable problems for which the Pakistani ruling class has never been able to provide a durable solution in the country’s history. First and most importantly is the nation’s dependence on foreign support, especially American, for its military and economic stability which is at direct odds with Pakistan’s own foreign policy objectives. This is part of the reason why the war in Afghanistan has gone on as long as it has; the Pakistani military benefits from drawing the war out, both in terms of monetary aid and in terms of its importance in Pakistani life.

This problem has been coming to a head in recent months, especially after the NATO airstrike which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers back in November and the massively unpopular drone strikes which continue to pound the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Washington has been looking for alternatives to the Pakistani military, but it has spent so long propping up the armed forces in Pakistan that it has few good options available in the region. The Pakistani military, too, relies on its ties with militant groups in the border areas. The new plan in Afghanistan announced by former ambassador Zalmay Khalilzadeh, which rewards Pakistan for its help in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table may also be a non-starter, since the Taliban have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with Karzai. The collapse of the NATO-Pakistan partnership and the potential destabilization of the Pakistani government will produce explosive results.

Secondly, the ruling class has never been able to achieve anything like hegemony for the civilian government. Both main parties, the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League, are widely discredited and are only voted in as ways of keeping the flow of graft moving in desirable directions. The newly minted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (Justice Party) led by cricketing star Imran Khan has had massive rallies, but is hamstrung by the rival factions within it. The inability of the civilian government to rule effectively has meant that the only option for a long time was to replace corrupt, ineffective civilian government with ruthless, draconian military government.

Finally, the economy in Pakistan has always been extraordinarily lop-sided, with a staggering gap between the rich and poor in the country. Even though the Pakistani economy was able to grow in the last half 2011, much of that growth was simply trying to recover from the devastating hit the country took from flooding over the two previous years and the earthquake in 2005. Much of the country’s spending on social programs and infrastructure is financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and the country is massively in debt. Unemployment is higher than the laughable official figure of 6.6% and the economy’s growth rate, somewhere between 3 and 4%, cannot accommodate the people who will enter the labor force. The current solution, external aid and printing currency through the Central Bank, are both ratcheting up inflation in the country, too. Both Moody’s and the IMF were trying to sound some alarms earlier this year that the Pakistani economy may be in for a bumpy ride this year.

But the population of Pakistan has also been restive. In December, there were sizeable rallies against the US drone strikes. Through January, thousands of people came out repeatedly against gas shortages and high inflation. In February, patients and activists went out to protest the issuance of contaminated cardiac drugs that killed over 100 people in the state of Punjab. There has also been an uptick in industrial actions in Pakistan. Added to this is fresh resistance by the Balochistan Liberation Front against the ongoing military occupation of Balochistan. While the left is still quite small, there are enormous opportunities for it to grow in this period.

All of this points to one unmistakable reality: as long as the elite in Pakistan control the economy and government in Pakistan, there will be nothing but ruin for the hundreds of millions who live there. The current legal fight is only the most recent expression of the problems that the ruling class faces in Pakistan. It neither has an agenda for ruling nor a party capable of implementing its agenda. Having eked by on corruption and repression for so long, the Pakistani establishment seems incapable of changing its tune. It will need ultimately, as in Tunisia and Egypt, to forced out by the heroic resistance of the masses.

Afghan/Pakistani left coming together

From DAWN Newspaper

AfPak left-wing parties to work together for peace

LAHORE, Dec 21: Left-wing parties of Pakistan and Afghanistan have got together for the first time and agreed on working jointly for regional peace and progress. They have rejected any military solution to the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The consensus was developed at a two-day consultation of Leftists from both countries on `Regional Political Context and its Impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan` here on Wednesday.They pledged to devote all their energies to building concrete alternatives to the false choice between Nato and the Taliban. They sought the right to self-determination for Afghanistan as well as adequate and relevant mechanisms to support and sustain it.

The participants belonged to the Awami Party, Pakistan Workers Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Solidarity Party Afghanistan, Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organization and the event was sponsored by the Swedish Left Party.

Alleging that in both neighbouring states the progressive forces had been pushed to the wall through controlled democracies, they set their aim at working together to resist Nato strikes and standing up as a “third option” to bring peace and make progress on both sides of the Durand Line.

Swedish Left Party representative Ann Carin Landstorm said they supported the dialogue to strengthen left-wing progressive movements and parties. She called for a joint and meaningful peace revolution in the region with the moral support of her party.

She welcomed the gathering after devastating periods of history in the region that led to anarchy, chaos and terrorism instrumented by international imperialistic powers.

Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization`s Faridoun Aryan, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organisation president Arif Afghani and Abdul Qadir Ranto and Nasir Shah of Solidarity Party Afghanistan called for peace in their country and condemned the US-led Nato invasion. They urged the Left to get united on a single platform and resist this regime with sincere efforts.

They called for better relations with Pakistani left-wing parties and expediting the efforts to resist the “war on terror”.

Dr Lal Khan, Jamil Umar, Abdul Qadir Ranto and Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan also spoke. — Staff Reporter