By Susan Pashkoff:
In the first three months of 2013, 694 provisions restricting a women’s right to choose have been introduced in different US states. The fact that amendments to the constitutions of various states give the foetus “personhood” is the sharp end of this intense attack.
This also takes place in the context that additional limitations were accepted as part of the passage of the Affordable Care Act when President Obama issued an executive order (March 24, 2010) affirming that the Hyde Amendment would extend to the new bill and hence to insurance company provision at the state level.
Roe, Doe and the Hyde Amendment
Many people have heard of the Roe vs Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973. Few outside the US understand that the impact of that decision, together with another case the same year, Doe vs Bolton, was to give a negative right to abortion; you legally have the right, but the state does not have to facilitate your access.
Roe vs Wade affirmed that a women’s right to an abortion is not absolute. Beyond the first trimester of pregnancy the state had more interests with considerations relating to maternal life and to viability of the foetus. Roe was a weak decision and has been steadily undermined since 1973.
The Hyde Amendment was passed by the US Congress in 1976. This Amendment is specifically targeted at poor women by making clear that federal funding will only be available for abortion services in very restricted circumstances – otherwise women have to pay.
The Hyde amendment prevents direct federal funding for abortion except in three specific cases: 1) the life of the mother; 2) rape; and 3) incest. Otherwise the decision is left to the states as to whether Medicaid funds can be used to cover abortions for poor women. This means there is wide variation between states. Abortion access must be formally permitted and available, but funding is dependent upon state laws.
The Hyde Amendment inspired the passage of other provisions extending the ban on funding of abortions to a number of other federal health care programs. Consequently, those federal government employees who need abortions must pay for them “out-of-pocket” rather than them being funded as part of general health care. Abortion services are not provided for U.S. military personnel and their families, Peace Corps volunteers, Indian Health Service clients, or federal prisoners.
The Hyde Amendment is not a permanent piece of legislation; but is passed as a rider to annual Federal appropriation bills specifically tied to Health and Human services affecting dispersals of Medicaid to the states.
The attempt to redefine rape by several Republicans running for office during the last general election not only tries to normalise misogyny; it aims at further limiting federal funding of abortions for women that were raped.
Compliance with Roe vs Wade by a state enables access to federal money giving access to general health care for the poor through Medicaid; non-compliance endangers a state’s receipt of Medicaid money undermining access to general health care.
Various interferences have been introduced by states. The Guttmacher Institute has aggregated these into several categories:
1) Refusal Laws 46 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in abortions; 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions. Private hospitals are often owned by religious denominations and in some areas they are the only available hospital provision forcing women to travel to obtain an abortion.
2) Medicaid funding for abortions: 17 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases specified by the Hyde Amendment. In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only.
3) Term limits to abortion: 41 states prohibit abortions except to protect the life of the women or her health after foetal viability (22-24 weeks);
4) Physician and Hospital requirements: 39 states require abortion to be performed by licensed physician; 20 require abortions to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in a pregnancy, 18 states require the involvement of a second physician after a certain point;
5) Late-term Abortions: prevention of certain procedures for late term abortions making them more dangerous (19 states have laws prohibiting “partial-birth” abortions;
6) Parental Involvement for Minors: 38 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion; 22 states require one or both parents to consent to the procedure, while 12 require that one or both parents be notified and 4 states require both parental notification and consent;
7) Unnecessary testing: e.g., invasive vaginal sonograms
8) Inaccurate Information Provision: Inaccurate information has to be given to pregnant women [e.g., links between abortion and breast cancer (5 states); foetal pain (12 states) and long-term mental health consequences of abortion (8 states)];
9) Waiting Periods: 26 states require woman seeking abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between receiving ‘counselling’ (see inaccurate information above) and the procedure. 9 of these states have laws effectively requiring woman to make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. In many states, abortion provision is limited (e.g., Mississippi and South Dakota have only one clinic in the whole state) and will require travel expenses and someone to stay overnight for a procedure, adding additional expense for women forced to pay for terminations.
10) Private Insurance Coverage: 8 states restrict coverage of abortion by private insurance plans, most often limiting coverage only to when the woman’s life would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term. Most states allow the purchase of additional abortion coverage at an additional cost.
Overturning Roe and Doe
Legislators in 14 states have moved to ban abortion before foetal viability and are unconstitutional due to inconsistency with Roe vs Wade. While many were shocked when Arkansas set limits to access at 12 weeks in March this year, it was North Dakota that really raised the stakes.
Three bills were signed into law by the Governor Jack Dalrymple on March 26, 2013:
1) HB 1456 prohibits abortion after detection of a foetal heartbeat (usually at 6 weeks of pregnancy)! ;
2) HB 1305 banning abortions performed solely for the purpose of gender selection and genetic abnormalities;
and 3) SB 2305 requiring admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital for any physician who performs abortions in North Dakota.
The Governor admitted that the purpose of the first bill was to test the limits of Roe v Wade. The third bill is a deliberate challenge to both Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton based upon a bill that was passed in Mississippi attempting to close down the sole abortion provider in the state (Mississippi HB 1390) demanding that doctors working at the centre have hospital admitting privileges. As is often the case, doctors come from outside the area or even the state to work at the clinic and they would not have hospital admission privileges. As expected, the local hospital denied them these privileges; this law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals judge, Daniel P. Jordan on April 15, 2013, but it is expected to be appealed further.
A second leg of attack which has been proposed in 10 states is the proposal that personhood begins at conception. In North Dakota if the “Fetal Heartbeat Detection” bill fails, there is also a constitutional amendment termed the “Fetal Personhood Amendment” which has passed both legislatures and will be voted upon at the November 2014 ballot.
If it passes, North Dakota’s constitution will state that “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” The amendment would ban abortion in the state, without exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, and it could restrict the legality of some forms of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.
Bills of this type have recently failed in Mississippi (Initiative 26 defining personhood at fertilisation) in 2011 and Colorado (2010, see Amendment 62 defining personhood at biological development). Since the legislature often is out of synch with the voters, there is a chance that this amendment will fail in North Dakota as well.
If both bills make it to the Supreme Court what can happen? It is not clear that the Court views it appropriate to overturn Roe and Doe. There is not even agreement even in the Republican Party on this issue.
So it is doubtful that Roe and Doe will be completely overturned; however, there is a real danger that foetal viability will be considered relevant which may impact upon term limits being further restricted. There are other considerations which relate to Doe on medical personnel and access to hospitals which may be re-examined adding further costs to accessing procedures. Most likely, further limitations on women’s right to choose will be deemed acceptable as access to abortion is considered to be a negative, rather than a positive, right.
Guttmacher Institute, “State Policies In Brief; An Overview of Abortion Laws as of April 2013”: http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OAL.pdf
Lori, “Three Controversial Proposals Rejected,” November 3, 2010: http://feministing.com/2010/11/03/three-controversial-propositions-rejected/
Maya, “North Dakotans will vote on a “personhood” amendment,” March 25, 2013: http://feministing.com/2013/03/25/north-dakotans-will-vote-on-a-personhood-amendment-next-election/
Jessica Mason Pielko, “Federal Court Blocks Mississippi Admitting Privileges Law”, April 15, 2013:
Mississippi Legislature, HB 1300: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2012/html/HB/1300-1399/HB1390IN.htm
Roe vs Wade: SCOTUS Decision in summary: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0410_0113_ZO.html
Zerlina, “Victory in Mississippi: Personhood Amendment Defeated!” November 9, 2011, http://feministing.com/2011/11/09/victory-in-mississippi-personhood-amendment-defeated/
I feel obliged to speak about the things I witnessed with my own eyes at the Police Station of Drapetsona, a close-to- the city- port neighborhood in Piraeus. I really have no idea of how I could possibly help my fellow men and so I expect each one of you to contribute to this by making what I saw widely known:
The immigrants who are being imprisoned in the basement of the Drapetsona Police Station have been beaten up by the policemen to try to discontinue their hunger strike. This behaviour made the 28-year -old Palestinian imprisoned refugee Ibrahim Farat to attempt suicide .
These events have made us, the active citizens of Piraeus, organize a protest march to their support. Once we arrived outside the Police Station the Chief Officer of Police appeared right in front of the Specially Equiped Police Forces called MAT- to tell us that a team of 5 individuals could go in and talk to the imprisoned immigrants.
These migrants have been detained simply because they could not provide employment documents because they have lost their jobs because of the continuously deteriorating economic crisis or because they didn’t have entrance documents in the first place. They haven’t committed any other offence…
What I saw was really shocking. In the inferno of the police station, 100 people were piled up in 70 square meters and have been detained there for more than 9 months, right after the beginning of “Xenios” Dias, when a specially created force organized by the Ministry of Public Order was set up. It acts under the commands of the Minister Mr. Dendias, who has a bad reputation for his methods sweeping poor homeless Greek people and foreign immigrants from the squares.
It’s ironic because Xenios Dias – Zeus was the god of hospitality, the god that protected foreigners. Every ancient Greek was obliged to take care and offer hospitality to every foreigner. Xenios Dias wasn’t the god who imprisoned, beat and tortured the foreigners.
People have been held up there under unbearable and unspeakable conditions driving them to despair . The complete lack of hygiene has allowed the spread of contagious skin diseases among them and in combination with the complete absence of natural daylight have made these unlucky people sick , physically and mentally, forcing them to attempt suicide. Even mice may die in these conditions.
The picture is impossible to depict. The kind of picture that’s rare even in movies. I’m really outraged at the state of which I’m a citizen. I’m deeply ashamed and outraged against the policemen who beat up these people as the imprisoned revealed to me, something which the Police Station Chief totally denied.
I managed to cope with the sadness and the despair expressed in their eyes. I managed to have a dialogue with the chief who was trying, in vain, to find excuses, saying that he is trying to balance out between humanitarian principles and dehumanizing orders by Mr. Dendias, who is exclusively responsible in the chief’s opinion for the situation of the PS.
I collapsed when I saw right in front of me a man tearing his own flesh causing bleeding as the only solution to attract our attention to his problem as soon as he saw us hoping that this will get him out of this inferno in which he is being detained and tortured for 9 consecutive months…
While tears filled my eyes, I got out of their cells so as not to be seen as this would cause them more pain and grief. These people experience the conditions of hell while alive. I began to scream my head off at the policemen and their accompanying state pschychologists.
You are no human beings I cried. You are violating every sense of what we call human rights and you talk to us about the bureaucracy which prevents you from fixing the toilets – only 2 for 100 people- and for your effort to balance out between humanism and the orders you get. Had you been human beings with any sign of sensitivity you would have spoken out for what happens inside here, and you would have resigned in order to stop this crime. I was beginning to lose control and so I moved out of the station .
Those who happen to read what I am writing must reconsider their responsibilities. They must react. We are the people who have the power.We are the state. But if the state is heartless it is because we who make it we are inhuman.
The Police Chief announced to the imprisoned man who had wounded himself that he would be set free. The same was said to the Palestinian who had earlier attempted suicide. The message that has been passed: You will get out of here only if you commit suicide and if you are lucky you may be promptly saved at the hospital…
? wish each one of us had the chance to get into this inferno of Drapetsona and see, speak and look into the eyes of our fellow men who experience this torture, one breath away from our homes. Then, they would all be out in the streets protesting.
Events of this kind take place everywhere in our country, being the result of the operation ‘Xenios Dias”. We must do everything we can in our capacity to put an end to this dreadful operation which is insulting us, our tradition and our civilization. Mr. Dendias, the minister of the so called ministry for the protection of the citizen(!) really or deliberately ignores our history and he should be reminded of the meaning of hopitality these very ancient Greek words convey.
We demand that these imprisoned ill-fated victims of his cruel policy be immediately released and set free.
We demand the immediate termination of the inhuman operation “ Xenios” Dias that insults our Culture and Democracy and makes expiatories victims the most weak part of our society, the immigrants and the refugees.
Feminist practice in the context of current grassroots mobilizations in Spain
By Virginia López Calvo
Current grassroots mobilizations in Spain, known as 15M or Indignados movement involves and benefits a great deal from feminisms. It is refreshing to see various feminist currents flowing through the Iberian streets in a symbiotic relationship with other struggles as part of the movement.
15M activists refer to the movement as a whole as 15M, because it all started on May 15 2011 when the squares of 79 towns and cities across the country were occupied and citizens’ assemblies were formed in them. By August 2011 it was estimated that at least 6 million people had participated in the movement. The 15M, still very alive and radicalized, showcases a myriad of initiatives and a staggering decentralized network. Their actions involve a great deal of creativity and theoretical analysis. The movement proves that, after the mass exodus and killings of progressive and talented minds during and after the Civil War, Spain has again regenerated its progressive-minded social tissue.
I am not trying to make an exhaustive map of different feminisms in Spain today; but rather to try to paint a near-accurate portrayal of grassroots feminisms responding to the crisis by elaborating on their narratives.
Defending what has been achieved: The Violet Tide
The violet tide emulated the many other ‘tides’ that emerged from the 15M. ‘Tide’ means ‘strand’ within the 15M movement: eg the White Tide is the movement defending free public healthcare while the Green Tide is the movement defending public education. The tide gathering feminist collectives and individuals across the country would inevitably be violet and indeed they like to make this obvious by dressing in that colour.
It was instigated from Málaga, a city in South Spain, and quickly joined throughout the state by hundreds of 15M feminist assemblies and other longer-established feminist organizations and collectives. Their actions take place simultaneously in several places across the country. A protest in February 2013 for instance was coordinated in the cities of Malaga, Madrid, Valencia, Córdoba, Granada, Jaén, Almería, Pamplona, Estella-Lizarra, Murcia, and Ceuta, along with many other towns.
In its manifesto, the Violet Tide condemns cuts to budgets for Equality Policies, the Law of Personal Autonomy and the Law of Sexual and Reproductive Rights. It also condemns the closure of services such as free legal aid and shelters for victims of violence against women as well as Women’s Centres and organisation such as the Women Institute.
Denouncing the systemic roots of it all: Feminisms Under the Sun
The movement has also given birth to ‘Feminisms under the Sun’, a Committee of Madrid’s Assembly (which occupied Plaza del Sol). Their manifesto fleshes out demands to bring about gender justice and economic justice, including demanding that domestic work is measured and factored into accounts of national wealth; that work and wealth are fairly distributed – less work for each person so that we all have work. They denounce the fact that our current society puts markets, rather than people, first.
Actions also reflect this wider concern, for instance, feminist economy workshops where ‘collective intelligence’ is put to work. These forums think through an economic system that puts people’s lives and needs first. What needs should the economy fulfill? What kind of production and labour systems would adequately meet them?
In 2012 ‘Feminisms Under the Sun’ encouraged women at the margins of the labour market to participate in the two general strikes that were taking place in Spain: unemployed and precarious workers, domestic workers, undocumented migrants and sex-workers; women were also called to join a care strike against capital and patriarchy. Households were picketed and housewives informed of the economic (and social) value of their free work and of the exploitation of such work both by patriarchy and capitalism.
‘Feminisms Under the Sun’ thus makes visible the systemic roots of the so-called ‘crises’ that European rulers have used as excuse to roll back what had been achieved in terms of laws and policies that protect women and advance gender equality, and proposes alternatives to such systems.
Holistic and experimental: The mutant bitches
Loyal to the critical spirit of 15M, militants of an Ultra-violet tide, the Mutant Bitches, question what they call ‘politically correct policies’ and aim to dismantle conceptual maps and systems of thinking within each of us that make us reproduce patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, racism and every other interlinked system of oppression. The Mutant Bitches want to provoke a transformation within the 15M movement itself and for this purpose they ‘de-programme patriarchal, capitalist and imperialist thinking’ using surveys, micro-workshops, boycotts to persons’ identity and happenings.
There is much creativity and enthusiasm in how feminisms are being played out in current grassroots struggles in Spain against injustice. Encouragingly all of them, from those working within the system to those working outside it work alongside other 15M ‘sub-movements’ as I have shown above. Arguably this alliance is weaker in Britain, not just at a grassroots level but throughout, where other struggles operate rather disconnected from feminisms; from its ideas and its energies. Such disconnections weaken us all who are working to put people before profit.
 Feminist radicalism against capital
Women, as we know, are bearing the brunt of the cuts – as workers, carers (daughters, mothers, wives). For most of us the attack is coming at us from all sides. As the majority of carers (of course there are male carers too, but we are still in the majority) and as the majority of workers in the public sector (around 80%), we find we have to do even more juggling than usual, as day centres close, redundancy notices are issued, and housekeeping has to stretch even more creatively than usual.
In Oxford, over the last year, this has led to a number of events spearheaded by women
At the Oxford international women’s festival in 2012 we held an afternoon’s discussion on the role we faced – the all-women platform spanned trades unionists, speakers from the Communist Party and from Socialist Resistance We discussed health and welfare cuts, the problems facing single mothers, domestic violence and the history of local struggles led by women – a nursery campaign, women in the car factory – and emerged, stronger, feeling that unlike many other meetings, women had had a strong, co-operative, voice.
A women’s (only) conference followed directly from this, politically co-operative like the first, with workshops on women in trades unions, women and welfare, international women’s struggles – and women and health. Keep our NHS Public Oxfordshire were asked to arrange this workshop, and as a member of the Women’s Conference organisation group and a long term activist in KONP it was down to me to set the ball rolling.
The first thing was to focus on our membership in KONP. The chairs, treasurer, and the majority of speakers in the meetings, were male Although the active members include women – health visitor, physiotherapist, retired PCT planner, and lecturer in communications – meetings were almost always dominated by the men ( ‘experts’ on PFI, the law, welfare services in the council, general practice and campaigning practice and networks).
I suggested a small informal meeting with women attenders outside the main monthly meeting to plan the workshop. We met in a café during the day, and planned the event over coffee and peppermint tea – and quickly moved into a very lively discussion of much broader issues of privatisation. There were five of us – including the mother of one of the members – and one after another we relaxed into a respectful equal sharing of information, ignorance, determination to succeed, and a confidence that together we could mount a good workshop.
It felt very different from our monthly KONP meeting which can sometimes feel stifling, frustrating, and as if you have to ‘intervene’ to be heard; as we left the café we said to each other – that was so enjoyable! I learnt so much! – and we were full of confidence that each of our contributions was important to the success of the day.
As it turned out, the workshop was full to bursting and full of ideas; and the informal café format has been repeated to plan street events – even with the occasional man present – with equal success. We women have a stronger voice now as well on the executive committee and in the monthly meetings, and our joint expertise is clearly helping us on in the long term struggle we face with overturning the current break up and reduction of services in health and welfare.
Reflecting on this, it is easy to pinpoint some of the things it is in our power as women (and men) to change, once we are prepared to acknowledge them, though harder to work out the route to those changes. Most of us on the left, and in trades unions, are used to a ‘framework’ for planning activity which has often turned into the main ‘activity’ we undertake – the agendas and minutes of the 2 hour monthly meetings, chaired (well or less well) – usually followed by an informal chat in the pub.
In my own 40-year experience, these meetings are normally balanced towards the men – who speaks, who tells the stories, who debates the politics – except on those rare occasions that women are in the majority. And my experience is that women come to meetings – galvanised for a cause – and then (except for an old habitual like myself) melt away after a few sessions (along with some of the less habituated more timid men), never having ‘found’ their voice in that setting.
The blame for this in my view doesn’t lie with the individual men – most of whom would be only too pleased if the women in question came forward. It lies instead with the ‘framework’ we need to break out of; and in this we have much to learn from the younger mechanisms of ‘occupy’ and other such less hierarchical (patriarchal?) groups- and much to be gained from simple improvisation, ‘letting go’, supporting the newer members to take the initiative rather than expecting them to fit to an old mould.
What is certain is that more and more women will emerge, wanting to fight austerity, in our local groups – and that our challenge will be to really listen to them and to support them turn us upside down. It is the only way we will succeed. And in supporting such women (along with less ‘patriarchal’ men) to champion the cause, we will also be forced to confront old, patriarchal habits – and change them.
The latest action that has come from that first café informal meeting was a street action in Witney Cameron’s town in the lead up to the Lords debate on throwing out the privatisation clause. Fifteen people – the majority new to KONP actions – half of them women – confidently engaged members of the public in the issues As women we have energy and ideas – and if we act together our voices are more likely to be heard
SATURDAY 13 APRIL; 1pm – 5pm
Discussion and Debate on Women’s Liberation:
The origins of women’s oppression
What is socialist feminism?
Speakers: Jane Shallice, Joanna Ramiro (ACI) and Jane Kelly (SR)
Venue: Community Centre, 62 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB
(Kings Cross or Russell Square tube)
And a slide show of photos by Louise of “women in struggle, women at the forefront”.
Women’s oppression arose with the existence of private property and class society. It has taken a specific form under capitalism as women are exploited not just because they have the primary responsibility for social reproduction but also because they are workers. The struggle for women’s liberation is essential and a part of the global struggle of workers and the oppressed against capitalism today. Socialist feminists believe that a socialist revolution is necessary for eradicating the oppression of women, but that the struggle for liberation has to start now and will continue after a revolution.
Uniting all women who want to fight against that oppression under the banner of women’s liberation is a key objective for socialist feminists. But it is working-class women who suffer most acutely whether it is from the lack of abortion facilities on the NHS, from sexual harassment or from economic discrimination in the workplace. Socialist feminists are in favour of the autonomy of the Women’s Liberation movement and of women’s leadership of the struggles against women’s oppression, at the same time as building alliances with organisations that involve men.
The presentations and discussion will look at the history of women’s oppression as well as strategies for liberation argued for by socialist feminists.
Organised by London Socialist Resistance
Note: this event was originally scheduled for Saturday 23 March and has been postponed to this new date.
For further details, phone Socialist Resistance at 020 7346 8889, or email email@example.com. On-line registration at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5756558020#
In a press conference on Monday 18th March the two largest teacher unions announced a series of joint strikes starting on Thursday June 27th and continuing into the autumn term.
The first days of strike action will be regional strikes, involving every part of the country in turn. These will be followed by a national strike in the second half of the autumn term.
Both unions have said that there will more strike action to follow this if Michael Gove does not listen to the concerns of teachers about pay, pensions and workload.
It is the first time either union has announced such a programme of action and the first time we have had such a clear intent by both unions to work together in the interests of teachers and education.
The NUT and NASUWT together represent 85% of the teaching profession.
Campaigning to win support
As part of the process of building support for the strike action amongst teachers and the wider public there will be a series of Saturday rallies around the country beginning early next term. These will take place in major towns and cities and will feature speakers from both Unions as well as parents, governors and education campaigners.
These rallies will be a really important part of our campaign and it is crucial that NUT members support them and bring people along.
Model Pay Policy
The NUT and NASUWT have also launched a Joint Union Model Pay Policy, which we want to see adopted by all schools. This policy will seek to keep in place all the security and transparency of the current School Teachers Pay Document. Both unions will support paid strike action in schools that do not adopt this policy.
Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary said, “This is a very important time for the NUT and the future of the teaching profession. Michael Gove is not listening to the collective voice of the profession. He is pursuing courses of action that are detrimental both to the education of our students and the careers and well-being of teachers. I urge all NUT members to support this campaign to make our voice heard.”
The battle against fees and cuts is far from over. In fact it has just begun. Last term’s demonstrations divided the Lib Dems and shook the Coalition Government. Yet the cuts have hardly started. The students’ movement itself is only just off the ground. There are more than 2 million students in Britain. Another 1.7 million attend FE colleges. Most colleges have just only started to organise.
A second, greater wave of occupations and demonstrations could bring the education system grinding to a halt. This would have the backing of staff and free them to join the struggle. It is their jobs that are under threat. The vote in parliament was just the start. Universities must decide in the next few months what fees they want to charge. Then there are the looming cuts in staff and facilities that will be an inevitable consequence of the funding cuts. Occupations will be central to these new struggles: They can stop universities functioning.
Download the Coalition of Resistance’s leaflet for the February week of action against the cuts by clicking on this link
Eric Toussaint of the Campaign for the Cancellation of Third World Debt (CADTM) was a member of the Audit Committee set up by the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, in order to avoid a large proportion of Ecuador’s public debt. In Ecuador, the debt audit helped successfully delete $3.2 billion from the debt: Ecuador unilaterally eliminated as illegitimate (”illegal ” or “odious”) - a debt of 3.2 billion dollars. Despite the embargo of the markets, there have been no big negative consequences for Ecuador.. On the contrary, the economy grew by 3.7% in 2010 and is expected to grow by 5% in 2011.
Now Eric Toussaint says : The people of Europe should audit their creditors. It is not logical to repay illegitimate debts . Debt default and the denial of debt repayment have been linked to a national disaster. These “revelation images” are aimed to make people accept the policies that are being applied
The Committee’s work in Ecuador has recently been mentioned in the Greek Parliament by Sofia Sakorafa. But could the experience of Ecuador be helpful in Greece? Eric Toussaint thinks so: “While the economies of the two countries are different, the structure of Greek public debt has a lot in common with developing countries.
“First, Greece is financing a part of debt in the form of bonds by the Government authorities (“securitization of public debt”), a technique used by Ecuador. Second, another large part of the Greek debt is in the form of bank loans, which is also the case for developing countries. Third, as a result of the rescue plan in May 2010, Greece has borrowed from the IMF.
“In other words, what is happening in Greece today is not very different from what has happened in many developing countries in recent decades, namely, through the IMF-imposed “Washington consensus”.”
Eric Toussaint sees another common element: “Ecuador’s debt was mainly owed to the banks in the U.S. In 200 Ecuador abandoned its national currency and adopted the U.S. Dollar, the currency of its lender. Similarly Greece has the same currency with its lenders, such as France and Germany, the Euro.”
The last observation does not mean that defaulting on the debt will necessarily be accompanied by exit from the euro: “There is not an automatic exit from the eurozone if Greece is to stop paying. Greece will have to decide if it wants to remain in the eurozone after a dialogue in the Parliament and with the Greek people.”
For Eric Toussaint, wages, pensions and savings can be secured. “If a state refuses to repay the debt, it saves money. In order to repay the debt, the state is using a very high volume of government spending money that could be used in order to pay salaries, to build public hospitals, schools and public agencies, to act to ensure the security of the country. The states that have defaulted up to now have realized that this has improved their ability to meet their obligations to their citizens.”
Also, considering citizens’ deposits, “the public authority must take responsibility and create a large public financial sector. The state can cover the cost of strengthening the banking system, by using the assets of the major banks’ shareholders.”
Although the reasons the debt increased to this level are different in Greece, Toussaint insists that the debt is not an issue that is only concerning Greece. “Greeks have to understand that they are not the exception to the rule. What has happened in Greece since April 2010 was repeated in Ireland in October 2010, it will happen again in Portugal, Spain and Italy. It would really be a shame for the Greeks to believe that they are an exception and to fatally accept the terms imposed on them.”
Argentina – Russia. The default has saved them
As a witness in defense of his claim for defaulting on odious debts, Eric Toussaint refers to the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, who in a 2010 study revealed that the economies of countries such as Russia or Argentina have been in a better financial situation since defaulting and have been able to save money to boost growth.
Playing dirty: Foreign banks to take responsibility
For Toussaint, Eurobonds are not a solution to our problem. First and foremost, he believes that the conditions for granting loans in Greece should be explored.
The question that we should primarily answer is: “Is it normal for citizens of a country like Greece, to repay a debt that is not legitimate?” If the loans had been made in the interests of citizens with respect for their basic needs and if the banks, mostly French and German, had acted carefully and rationally, then we would say that the debt should be repaid. But the bulk of debt is illegal and the bankers who purchased Greek titles must take their responsibilities. They have entered into loan agreements with unreasonable and illegal terms, and therefore they must accept the cancellation of a significant part of the debt.
Eric Toussaint refers to the “excessive military spending in Greece, much of which is due to Franco-German pressure.”
This interview with Eric Toussaint was carried out by Nikitas Kouridakis for the Greek daily paper Ethnos tis Kyriakis, a centre- left oriented paper with the third biggest circulation (100.000 copies) in the country. The original version of the interview was published on 9 January 2011: http://www.ethnos.gr/article.asp?catid=11379&subid=2&pubid=49752949
‘The system is fucked’. That is the conclusion reached at the end of the film that has become in the last few weeks Brazil’s most succesful production of all time. ‘Tropa da Elite 2′ is the sequel to a film which itself broke box office records in 2007. It is, in the words of the film’s director José Padilha, unusual for such a politically and socially engaged film to meet with such success.
The first film depicted a series of invasions of favelas by the incredibly brutal military police known as BOPE. It was based on real accounts from former BPE agents, and focussed on the attempts to ‘clean up’ the favelas in preparation for the visit of the Pope in 1997. Some people interpreted the film’s tortured protaganist, Captain Nascimento, as an action hero mercilessly blowing away the bandits, which was not precisely the intention of the film makers. Any kind of gung-ho interpretation of the sequel is not possible. In the new film Captain Nascimento joins forces with a prominent human rights activist to challenge the growing power of the milícias, mafia gangs mostly made up of former (and often serving) police officers who dominate life in many of the favelas, charging extortionate rates for services such as electricity and gas supplies, cable TV and internet, and threatening, beating and murdering those who stand up to them. The film depicts the way in which they have taken over from the drug gangs that used to dominate crime in the favelas, and also highlights the levels of corruption which permit and sustain their activity, reaching up to the highest echelons in the political system: corrupt politicians in the Rio government and in Brasilia itself - hence the stark and bitter conclusion to the film.
After the recent successful operation by the military to expel the drug trafficking gangs from their strongholds in certain favelas, police officers moving into areas previously outside their control were accused by residents of acting ‘just like in the film’ - demanding favours and a share of the income of local businesses. However in recent weeks the focus in the media has not been on the militias themselves, but on the drug gangs.
The drug gangs appear to be on the wane, but the power of the militias is much more deeply entrenched. Through intimidation and bribery they manage to get their own representatives elected to the city council, in order to protect and promote their interests. As for where the proceeds from extortion go, the profits do not all go into the pockets of those further up the scale, but also subsidise the pitifully low salaries of the police, who because they earn only around $800US per month often moonlight as private security guards, either independently or with the mafias. The book of the film even goes as far as to say that in Rio, the problem of violent crime is the police.
In Brazil the police and the military are know as the ‘public security’ forces. However, according to Marcelo Freixo, there is no such thing as public security. He is well placed to judge; for the last number of years he has been a human rights activist fighting against police corruption in the city. It is on Freixo that the character in the film who tries to take on the mafia gangs is based. He has also just begun his second term as a representative on the city council, on behalf of the Socialism and Freedom Party, which split from the ruling Worker’s Party in 2002.
In that capacity has sought to uncover corruption, to expose links between the mafias, the police and politicians, and it was he who instituted a far-reaching public inquiry into these questions. The recommendations that the inquiry produced have still not been implemented. Although the character in the film has a different name, in the book of the film he appears under his own name, and so he has gained a significant profile as someone prepared to challenge power in its most dangerous form. The film and the book both show clearly the terrible dangers that anyone brave enough to stand up to the milícias faces.
It is significant that in the first ‘Tropa da Elite’ film the favela is being cleaned up to ensure security for the visit of an international VIP, the Pope. Ten years later the Pan American Games saw the then governor of Rio reportedly embarking on a campaign to ‘retake the favelas’. The games brought new stadiums and a great deal of investment to some of the wealthier parts of the city, but, in the words of a community activist in one of the favelas, delivered ‘nada para os moradores’ – nothing for the people who actually live in the poorer parts of the city.
More recently the Rio government has launched a campaign to install police posts in some of the areas they were previously afraid to enter. By and large this has been a success in the limited areas where it has been implemented, and the events of the last few weeks, with supposedly impregnable strongholds of the drug gangs invaded and occupied in a very short space of time, have taken everyone by surprise, not least the drug gangs themselves. But as the film shows and as activists such as Marcelo Freixo have tried to make clear, the corruption and violence which blight the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout Rio is not at this stage directed or controlled by the drug gangs, but by the militias, whose power is more deeply entrenched.
It is very clear what the impetus for this current campaign to retake certain favelas is about: it is in preparation for the coming of the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later. As an increasing amount of people around the world are aware, there is a history of the poor being shunted out of town to make way for these mega-events, as we have seen recently in Beijing, where the residents were impolitely requested to stay inside their homes so as not to get in the way of the important foreign guests, and in South Africa, where a movement sprung up fuelled by outrage at the forced evictions of shack dwellers to enable corrupt land deals backed up by the full force of the state.
Remaking the city for such events is not just a cosmetic exercise - it forms part of a strategy to remake the host city more amenable for business interests and tourism. It is also a means of forcing up rents and land and property prices - poverty that can not be physically forced out of sight and out of mind will not be able to withstand the increase in the cost of living as speculators move in - which raises the question of where the poor are to live. In the 1960s and 1970s the answer to the ‘problem’ of the favela was to uproot and force entire communities away from the centre, to the far west of the city. It has been suggested - and evidence shows - that this is what the preparations for the upcoming events will bring about.
Rio is said to be the capital of informality. The favelas are held to be one of its charms, and the views from some of the those located close to the centre are some of the most iconic images of the city. In Rio, the spontaneity and chaos are very much selling points, and the city is sometimes idealised as a space of democracy: rodas de samba, carnival and the beach, spaces which everyone, rich and poor, shares. Reality often and clearly contradicts this picture; the other side of this unboundedness is social exclusion, the threat of violence and the reality of third-world levels of deprivation. Tourists now flock to favelas on organised tours to get a closer look at this curious mix of heaven and hell. But if these spaces of informality are to be formalised, for whose benefit will it be? For the people who live there, or for the rich visitors? And to whom will these spaces belong once the VIPS have left?
Mega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup seek to submit all local control to commercial interests backed up by the legal and physical might of the state, and to channel and control all surrounding economic activity in such a way as to benefit certain formal interests which operate, as Andrew Jennings has ably demonstrated, in a world of backhanders and sweeteners. The reality behind the airbrushed images is one of extortion and bribery, both formal and informal. Given the obscene corruption of FIFA and the Olympic Committee, amply documented on this site, and given the recent history of the brutal displacements in Beijing and South Africa, it is clear that corruption in Brazil is about to move up to another level. Fortunately there are signs of a growing movement in Rio to begin to expose and challenge the attempt to remake the city in the interests of corrupt international cartels which are much more powerful, but in a way very similar, to the mafia gangs that seek to control and exploit Rio’s favelas. It is, after all, in the words of Captain Nascimento, no accident that favelas exist in the first place.