CPGB-ML » Posts for tag 'media'

Chilean miners: what was the TV show hiding?

Relatives of the miners trapped in the San Jose mine wait in a camp near the mine in Copiapo, Chile, 11 October 2010.

Relatives of the miners trapped in the San Jose mine wait in a camp near the mine in Copiapo, Chile, 11 October 2010.

Deeply moved, nearly a billion of us looked on. A whole nation - managers and workers, rich and poor - united in a common effort to save 33 Chilean miners, with their president leading from the front. Emotion, suspense, ratings, huge advertising revenues. But what did this TV extravaganza conceal?

By Michel Colon, via michelcollon.info

That the ’saviours’ were in fact the culprits. Three hours before the landslide, the San José miners had requested permission to leave after hearing suspect noises. Their bosses’ refusal imprisoned them under several tons of earth. Is this surprising? No. On 30 July, a Ministry of Labour report had already flagged up important safety problems at the San José mine, but no action was taken, and the Ministry kept silent.

Of course, everyone was overjoyed at the happy ending. But the rescue show masked the extent of the problem: 400 Chilean miners have died in the last decade. And more importantly, it masked the causes.

“Poor investment and safety standards” said Marco-Enriquez-Ominami, Sebastián Piñera’s opponent in the last presidential elections. In fact, in 2009 alone, 191,000 work accidents were recorded in Chile, in which 443 workers died. And the Chilean government is directly responsible, as, it has refused for the last 12 years to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention C176 on health and safety in mines. Business enjoys unrestricted freedom, while the workers have no rights.

Behind the saviour hides a billionaire

His face appeared constantly on every screen: the head of state - smiling, focused, concerned for his fellow citizens. But was this idealised image perhaps a little too smooth? Who is the real Sebastián Piñera, elected President in 2009 with 51.61 percent of the vote?

At 61, he is worth $1.2bn, which according to Forbes magazine makes him the 701st richest man in the world - a fortune he amassed thanks to measures implemented during the blood-soaked Pinochet dictatorship years (1973-1990). At the time, Chile was the testing ground for the neoliberalism of the extremist economists who came to be known as the Chicago Boys. Piñera was able to profit from these privatisations by helping himself to the credit-card sector.

Nicknamed the ‘Silvio Berlusconi of Latin America’, Piñera now owns Chilevision, one of the country’s largest TV networks, and Colo Colo, one of the biggest football teams and is also involved in distribution, the mining industry and pharmaceuticals. On becoming president, he was obliged to sell his shares in the Lan Chile airline (where he was the majority shareholder). He therefore wears two hats : head of state and powerful businessman. When asked by the Argentinean newspaper Clarín about this ambiguous status, he responded: “Only the dead and saints have no conflicts of interest.”

Piñera is certainly no saint. Monica Madariaga, Minister of Justice during the military dictatorship, has admitted to putting pressure on judges, at the time when Piñera was a bank manager. The level of fraud rose to nearly $240m. In 2007, Piñera was also condemned for insider dealing by the financial markets authority following his acquisition of shares in Lan Chile. As the great French writer Honoré de Balzac said, “Behind every great fortune hides a crime.” That of Piñera is the colour of the blood of the dictatorship’s victims.

By hiding his past, and presenting him as a friend of the people, the TV spectacle at the San José mine handed the yellow-helmeted Piñera a real political opportunity. As a result, he rose in the opinion polls. The Chilean right, which dared not show its face after the dictatorship, has regained its prestige.

Piñera, the posthumous victory of Pinochet and the USA

Despite the scandals, Sebastián Piñera knows how to present himself to best advantage. His electoral campaign stressed his ‘love of democracy’ and the fact that he voted against Pinochet remaining in power during the 1988 referendum. His election thus owes much to his image as ‘the success man’ - as if making a personal fortune implied the ability to govern a country. Quite the contrary, his fortune was built precisely on undermining the community.

And he’s getting ready to carry on doing so. This admirer of Nicholas Sarkozy intends to privatise state assets, under the pretext of covering the losses incurred as a result of the great earthquake of February 2010. It would mean selling 40 percent of Codelco (the number one copper company) as well as another mining company - Cimm T&S - into private hands. This makes perfect sense, given that Chile is the world’s biggest exporter of copper. Remember that certain US multinationals committed the most heinous crimes in order to keep control of this wealth.

In 1970, a progressive government led by Salvador Allende undertook to develop Chile and free its people from poverty. To do this, it had to regain control of the primary source of national wealth - copper - obtaining a fairer price and allocating the revenues to the pressing needs of the population. The United States let fly immediately: a financial embargo, destabilisation by the CIA, terrorist activities, every kind of blackmail … until the military coup d’état and the installation of the fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. There were thousands of victims, and a whole progressive generation was massacred or exiled.

In his speech to the UN in December 1972, a few months before his assassination, President Allende described the looting of his country by the US copper multinationals, the Anaconda Company and Kennecott Copper Corporation:

“The same corporations which have exploited Chilean copper for so many years have made over $4bn in profits in the course of the last 42 years, although their initial investments amounted to less than $30m. Take a simple, painful example and a flagrant contrast: in my country, there are 600,000 children who will never be able to experience normal human lives because, in their first eight months, they were deprived of essential quantities of protein. My country, Chile, would have been totally transformed by these four billion dollars. A tiny fraction of this amount would have provided all these children from my country with enough protein once and for all.”

Piñera’s electoral victory is essentially a posthumous victory for the dictator, the return to power of the United States.

Besides, Piñera is planning to borrow from the Inter-American Development Bank, dominated by the USA - a loan which will also result in new anti-social cutbacks. This general offensive of the private against the public is hardly surprising now that there is a billionaire at the country’s helm. All semblance of independence between the two spheres has vanished: the Minister of Foreign Affairs used to run the Falabella department store chain, while his counterpart at the Ministry of Health was head of Las Condes private clinic, the country’s biggest. Even though they have temporarily abandoned these posts, they continue to take decisions which have a major bearing on their companies’ futures.

With such billionaires in power, it’s hardly surprising that business tax is ridiculously low - 3 percent in 2011 and 1.5 percent in 2012 - all still under the pretext of the earthquake! In fact, Chile occupies 21st place worldwide in terms of countries which tax capital the least - and first place in Latin America (source: Pricewaterhouse Coopers). The TV said nothing about the links between the dictatorship and Piñera, or about these anti-social projects.

Also covered up was the miners’ anger

In the country where the CEO is King, Piñera was still nevertheless obliged to set up a commission on work safety following the drama of San José - due to deliver its findings on 22 November. He also set up a Mines Control Authority and ordered a review of mining safety regulations.

This is no gift from a big-hearted billionaire, merely a retreat in the face of popular discontent. Just after the miners were rescued, their colleagues demonstrated for their unpaid salary and bonuses, the continuous training of the young workers, the approval of their benefits, retirement for the elderly and redundancy money. Then, on 7 September, Chilean unions demanded the ratification of health and safety agreements not only in mines, but also in the construction and agricultural sectors.

But what the TV failed to point out was that these violations of workers’ rights are the result of the reforms implemented during the dictatorship. The Pinochet years turned health, education and social security into mere commodities - jobs became much more vulnerable and flexible. And these neoliberal reforms have remained virtually intact, as they remained unchallenged by the coalition governments (alliances of Christian Democrats and Socialists) which followed one another in the 20 years after Pinochet. Flouting workers’ rights - even human rights - is still legal in Chile.

Piñera is implicated in this too - his brother José was Minister of Labour in the 1980s, during the dictatorship. It was he who applied the no-holds-barred neoliberalism of the Chicago Boys, insisting that pensions should be ‘capitalised’, ie, privatised. This disaster brings us back to CampEsperanza. One of the 33, Mario Gomez, began working in the mines aged 12 and is still there today, aged 63! Why? Because his pension amounts to a pittance - thanks to José Piñera! Nothing of this was said on TV.

One of the world’s most unjust countries

Although ‘an economic miracle’ in Washington’s eyes, Chile is in fact one of the world’s most unjust countries. CASEN (Centre for Research on the National Socio-Economic Situation) statistics show that poverty is rising at the same speed as GDP (the country’s overall production). GDP is indeed on the up, but only benefits a sector of the population, thereby further exacerbating inequalities. Poverty rose by 15 percent in 2009, affecting the under-3s in particular. One in four of the population is poor according to CASEN.

But these official figures underestimate the reality, based as they are on 1988 calculations, labelling the poor as those earning under 2,000 pesos a day - in a country where a single bus ticket costs 500 pesos! The cost of living is not therefore factored in. A more realistic estimate would list 8 million poor, ie, half the population. Faced with this, UN Human Rights organisations remain silent.

Meanwhile, the United States - grand defender of democracy - considers the country an ally and even an example. Is it purely by chance that Chile is moving closer to Columbia, considered a US agent in Latin America?

In short, Chilean society has been divided, stripped of its rights, misinformed and reduced to submission by the uniformity of the media. The aim of the right, and even of the coalition, has been the continuation of the military regime. The country is increasingly becoming a business paradise, repressing workers and unions alike. Sebastián Piñera ensures the model of the constitution put in place by Pinochet in 1980 is preserved and is likely to take things even further. TV said nothing of this.

What is a TV show for?

To summarise (and learn some lessons, as we will be treated to more such shows in future). For days and days, the major international media kept trotting out the same fairy tale: the big-hearted billionaire so concerned about the poor! For days and days, the TV ignored the misdeeds and selfish plans of this same billionaire - his links to the heinous dictatorship, his servility towards the United States.

Chilean and international cameras were all trained on this spectacle. Nothing, for example, on the impressive hunger strike of the Mapuche aborigines. Harshly repressed, treated like terrorists, their struggle was wiped out.

On the other hand, the TV spared no detail about the miners, down to their most intimate secrets. We learned of the double lives led by some, the hidden children and the mistresses. You’d think you’d switched on to pure reality TV. No information, just buckets of emotion. Producers and publishers are already talking about a film, a TV film and a book - the perfect opportunity to make a killing! In a quest for the poignant details, the log book of one of the survivors is coveted by all and sundry. It is estimated that potential buyers are ready to pay out up to $50,000. These 33 stories will thus be exploited to the maximum, totally exposing the private lives of the protagonists.

The whole TV ’show’ was designed to pre-empt reflection, working the emotional angles with carefully honed techniques, transfixing viewers and bumping up advertising revenues. The emotional side has been systematically exploited so as to hide the absence of any real inquiry into the causes of the problems. Work accidents, for example, are almost always the result of a conflict of opposing interests: profits versus safety.

No enquiry therefore into the responsibility of the ’saviours’ and the Chilean government. No inquest into our western governments which acted as Pinochet’s accomplices and refused to bring this criminal to judgement. No enquiry into fundamental topical questions - why it is that one Latin American in two is poor while the continent abounds in riches and multinationals make enormous profits? Why do our western governments oppose all those who attempt to fight against poverty? Why did these governments do nothing when the CIA attempted coups d’état to eliminate Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa? Why did they do nothing to counter the successful military coup d’état in Honduras ? Journalists, union members and human rights workers are systematically killed and this provokes no international media campaign?

Instead of genuine enquiries, TV brainwashes us with messages along the lines of “billionaires and workers, all in the same boat”. For real information, look elsewhere.

Translated from french by Andrew Morris

No cooperation with war crimes: step up the campaign

The following motion is being submitted by the CPGB-ML to the upcoming Stop the War national conference.

We believe that the proposed programme of action is both necessary and achieveable. We therefore call on all anti-imperialists and anti-war campaigners to give it the widest possible circulation in order to generate discussion and to mobilise support for this important work.

Individually, we may be powerless, but together, we do have the power to stop imperialism’s criminal wars.

CPGB-ML resolution to StW conference, October 2010

This conference notes the passing last year of a motion calling on the coalition “to do all in its power to promote a movement of industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s aggressive war preparations and activities among British working people“.

Since that resolution was passed, many important developments have taken place, which on the one hand make this work more urgent, and on the other have created an atmosphere that is more receptive to our message.

Conference notes the attack on those condemning war crimes that was embodied in the draconian sentences handed down to the Gaza protestors. Congress further notes that these sentences were aimed not only at discouraging muslim youth from political activism, but also at dividing the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements along racial lines, and branding Palestine solidarity as a ‘muslim’ issue.

Conference condemns the murder by Israeli commandos of nine solidarity activists aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May, despite the fact that the UN had called for the ships to be allowed to pass. Conference notes the UN’s recent findings that these murders were illegal – another war crime to add to the many being committed daily against the Palestinian people.

Conference further notes that in the atmosphere of international outrage that followed these murders, even Israeli-friendly politicians such as Cameron and Hague were forced to make statements condemning both the murders and the siege on Gaza.

Conference reaffirms its support for all those who have taken the lead in active non-cooperation over the past year, in particular for Joe Glenton, for the EDO Decommissioners, for the Gaza protestors, and for the many British participants in siege-busting missions by land and sea to Gaza.

Conference notes that the landmark acquittal in the case of the Decommissioners can only facilitate more actions of this kind, since it not only sets a legal precedent, but is a reflection of the general sense of disgust against Israeli war crimes in particular.

Conference reaffirms its belief that the majority of people in Britain are opposed to British imperialism’s wars, and considers that the time is ripe to make active non-cooperation a central theme of our work. Conference therefore calls on the incoming steering committee to take the line of non-cooperation into as many arenas as possible, including:

  1. Putting on a fundraising concert to draw attention to the Gaza prisoners’ plight and to raise money towards a campaign to overturn their convictions.
  2. Approaching Joe Glenton to take part in a national speaking tour against cooperation with the Afghan war.
  3. Giving full backing, including maximum possible publicity, to all those groups or individuals, whether affiliated to the Coalition or not, who, like the EDO Decommissioners, the Raytheon activists and Joe Glenton, are targeted by the state for refusing to cooperate with, or for actively attempting to prevent, the illegal wars and bombings waged and backed by British imperialism.
  4. Stepping up the campaign outside army recruitment centres and at army recruitment stalls in schools, colleges and universities, drawing attention to the war crimes committed by the British armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  5. Launching a full campaign inside the unions to draw attention to British, US and Israeli war crimes, with the aim of passing in each of them, and then at the TUC, motions condemning those crimes and calling on workers to refuse to cooperate in their commission, whether it be by making or moving munitions or other equipment, writing or broadcasting propaganda, or helping in any other way to smooth the path of the war machine.
  6. Following the excellent example set by PSC (eg, the campaign to draw attention to pro-Israeli propaganda in Panorama) and Media Lens (eg, alerts drawing attention to the media’s cover-up of war crimes committed in Fallujah) and working with these and others to draw in as many members and supporters as possible to an ongoing campaign to hold the media to account for their pivotal role in apologising for, covering up and normalising British, US and Israeli war crimes.
  7. Continuing and increasing the work already done to make Britain a place where war criminals, whether US, British or Israeli, can get no peace, through holding protests, through citizens’ arrests and through all other available channels, including using local, national and international courts to file charges and draw attention to their crimes.

Time to expose Labour’s racism at home and abroad

Bectu members received the following email from their union today:

I am writing to let you know about EXPOSE, a new campaign of media workers and students – journalists, technicians, designers, musicians and actors – that is dedicated to exposing the British National Party as the racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, women-haters and fascists that they are.

BECTU are working with our colleagues from the NUJ to support the launch of ‘EXPOSE’, a campaigning group set up to provide well-researched information and background briefings for reporters, news editors and others in our industry in order to challenge the BNP’s statements and spokespersons, and the racism and criminality at the heart of their organisation.

Below is how one member responded:

It’s not the BNP, but the Labour party that needs exposing. Everyone knows what the BNP is about. And it is Labour’s racism that has created the conditions in which the BNP has grown and thrived.

Labour has dehumanised and massacred millions of innocent people in the Middle East. Labour has demonised British muslims. Labour has built concentration camps for immigrants. Labour has brought in ‘anti-terror’ legislation that it uses against peaceful demonstrators and the entire muslim community. Labour has dismantled British civil liberties. Labour has given billions to the failed banks, while encouraging working people to believe that it is immigrants who are to blame for the lack of health care, child care, education, jobs, pensions and houses. Labour continues to use anti-trade union legislation to crush working peoples’ attempts at resistance to cuts in their pay and conditions.

All these things have helped the BNP to grow. Labour has the blood of millions on its hands and yet our unions try to tell us that voting Labour is the only option if we want to ‘keep the Tories out’ or ‘keep the BNP out’. This campaign has less to do with exposing the BNP, who are already fairly well exposed, than with trying to save the electoral chances of the current government of Labour war criminals. Meanwhile, the side effect is that you will give lots of publicity to the BNP!

The fact is that the capitalists are more than happy for people who feel abandoned by and disillusioned with Labour to turn to the BNP, since the BNP further encourages racism and division between working people. This division is the very thing that keeps workers weak and at the mercy of big corporations and the state. As far as the capitalists are concerned, the BNP is a perfectly acceptable ‘alternative’ vote, since it doesn’t threaten their ability to continue to plunder and exploit at home or abroad. They see it merely as a safety valve in times of economic crisis, when people are becoming more militantly disaffected.

But, despite all the publicity it receives, and the recruiting work that the Labour party and corporate media does for it, the BNP is not currently anywhere near to power. The real threat to working people right now is the Labour party. And the best way to explain that, and to keep people away from the BNP too, is to ditch Labour and become part of a real workers’ movement against the failed system of capitalism and for socialism - the only system that is capable of abolishing all forms of inequality and putting workers’ interests and needs first.

With the bank crisis fresh in people’s minds and the prospect of a fresh assault on workers’ jobs, houses, pay and pensions after the election, no matter which party of capital wins, there has never been a better time to get involved in the real struggle for workers’ rights: the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggle for socialism. On the other hand, there is no better way to reveal our uselessness than to go flogging the same old dead horse of trying to bring people back into the Labour party fold, and tie them to the system that has created all the problems we see today: economic meltdown, a gap of 100 times between Britain’s richest and poorest, criminal genocidal wars, stealth privitisation of essential services, spiralling unemployment, racist and anti-immigrant hysteria, the increasing criminalisation of protest, etc.

As media workers, we should be looking a bit closer to home in our battle to fight all this. The propaganda that fuels support for criminal wars and anti-terror and anti-immigrant legislation and demonisation couldn’t be put out without our members’ cooperation. Journalists write this rubbish to order. Technicians print and broadcast it. How about a campaign to stop helping the capitalists to make us complicit in their crimes?