NATO Reality Check: Protestors in Chicago can fatally fracture NATO.

Michael Skinner 19 May 2012

Protestors in Chicago before NATO Summit begins

[Published in Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 638 May 20, 2012]  

The NATO summit in Chicago, on 20-21 May, will be a lightening-rod for protest. This is a historical moment when peace activists have an opportunity to deflect NATO’s current trajectory toward expanding and intensifying global warfare.

NATO is the most powerful military alliance ever devised in human history.

However, the alliance is unstable. NATO is wrought with fractures, which protestors in Chicago could break open, if they act thoughtfully.

Among the thousands of protestors expected in Chicago will be a group of veterans of the Global War on (of) Terror who will attempt to return their war medals to NATO generals.

The war vets state: “We were awarded these medals for serving in the Global War on Terror, a war based on lies and failed polices. This endless war has killed hundreds of thousands, stripped the humanity of all involved, and drained our communities of trillions of dollars, diverting funds from schools, clinics, libraries, and other public goods”.

Like many people in the NATO states, these veterans were initially duped by the myths that support war. But myths can be debunked.

Let’s look at some of the mythical representations of NATO countered by the factual realities that are of use to those in Chicago and around the world protesting against NATO’s destructive power.

Myth #1: NATO is controlled by the United States.

Reality #1: NATO is not controlled by the United States.

NATO is certainly dominated by the United States. America’s close ties with Britain and Canada make domination by the Anglo trio within NATO even more powerful, but not omnipotent.

NATO North Atlantic Council

The US cannot control NATO, because the NATO decision-makers must reach a consensus within the North Atlantic Council (NAC) before taking action. Consensus can constrain the power of any one state or group of states.

American decision-makers and their closest allies, who bristle at the constraint of consensus, wish to streamline the NATO decision-making process.

Any reform that reduces decision-making authority to less than consensus would afford the US and its closest allies greater power. But, thus far, the consensus model remains in place.

Which leads us to …

Myth #2: NATO sanctioned the invasion of Afghanistan and participated in the invasion alongside the United States and United Kingdom and their closest allies.

Reality #2: The invasion of Afghanistan like the invasion of Iraq was a unilateral US-UK led action that lacked either UN or NATO sanction. NATO operations in Afghanistan began in 2003 when the alliance assumed command of the UN sanctioned International Security Assistance Force.

The US and its closest allies have failed on numerous occasions to achieve consensus within NATO forcing them to either backtrack or proceed unilaterally without official NATO support. The unilateral US-UK led invasion of Iraq is a well-known case in point.

Nonetheless, the US-UK led invasion of Afghanistan, on 7 October 2001, which proponents and opponents alike often portray as either a multilateral United Nations or multinational NATO mission, was neither. The decision to invade Afghanistan was made unilaterally by the leaders of the US and the UK and the decision was implemented by a very small coalition of states.

Canadian JTF2 Special Operations Forces transport detainees during Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan

The invasion, codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, was led by the US and UK and supported in combat only by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander Special Operations Forces, and briefly by the French and German Air Forces.

The French and German air forces were soon withdrawn from combat in Afghanistan at least in part due to the protests of activists in those states who successfully demonstrated that their governments lacked popular support for an illegal military action.

Of the seven states that attacked Afghanistan, only four – the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany – were NATO members (France was not a member in 2001).

The US and UK had failed to obtain a consensus to invade Afghanistan in both the United Nations Security Council and the NATO North Atlantic Council.

The resolution (1373), which the UN did produce, called on all states to “work together urgently to prevent and suppress terrorist acts” and it proposed numerous means, within the bounds of international law, by which states could do so. The UN resolution did not propose an invasion of Afghanistan and indeed the word Afghanistan does not appear in the document.

NATO decision-makers did not sanction the invasion of Afghanistan by invoking article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty; they did pledge to mutually defend the United States against further attack.

The NATO ambassadors did, however, release a press statement endorsing the unilateral invasion of Afghanistan, on the day after the US and the UK launched Operation Enduring Freedom.

The only concrete support NATO could muster following the illegal invasion, however, was extremely limited. NATO did not send a military force to support the invasion of Afghanistan. Nor did NATO ever dedicate forces to any direct support role in the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, NATO did send “NATO aircraft, manned by multinational crews from 12 NATO nations” to North America to provide “critical air surveillance and early warning capabilities … under the command of NORAD”.

NATO also re-assigned “naval assets” to “provide an allied military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and to demonstrate our resolve”.

In their 2008 book, The Unexpected War, Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang claim Canada was “legally committed and obligated” as a member of NATO to join the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan alongside American forces. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Canada was the only NATO state other than the US and UK that sent military ground forces into Afghanistan as part of the US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom invasion force, in 2001.

It was not until 2003 that NATO sent forces to Afghanistan, but not to support the aggressive Operation Enduring Freedom mission. NATO agreed to send forces to assume command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Following the invasion of Afghanistan, the negotiators of the problematic UN Bonn Convention initiated the creation of the ISAF, in December 2001, as a complex peace operation with a mandate to clean up the mess left in the wake of the invasion and previous decades of turmoil.

Throughout the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan, the aggressive OEF and complex peace operation ISAF missions gradually merged. In 2009, the Obama administration made the parallel missions nearly indistinguishable by placing both under the joint command of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

It might seem a niggling detail to highlight the fact that, in 2001, NATO did not invade Afghanistan, and did not directly support the invasion forces. Or that after NATO forces finally did enter Afghanistan to lead ISAF, in 2003, most NATO member states were reluctant to engage in the same aggressive and illegal tactics employed by their American, British, and Canadian comrades engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The differences between the unilaterally declared US-led Operation Enduring Freedom and multilaterally UN-sanctioned NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were only marginal at best during the Bush administration and of diminishing difference since the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, the reluctance of most European members of NATO to engage in the illegal invasion of Afghanistan, as well as to engage in the illegal tactics employed throughout the decade long occupation by the members of the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition demonstrates an important fracture within NATO.

From the outset of the Global War on (of) Terror, American, British, and Canadian political and military leaders attempted to goad the Europeans into engaging in more aggressive warfare.

Canadian officials in NATO, formerly perceived as diplomatic multilateral bridge-builders, are now recognized within NATO as North American badgers who berate their European counterparts for not following in lockstep behind the US.

Which leads us to …

Myth #3: European NATO leaders were too cheap to spend their resources and too afraid of combat to fight on the overt battlefronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the many other covert battlefronts of the Global War on (of) Terror.

Reality #3: European political and military leaders did not have enough popular domestic support to fight an illegal war.

European generals may have been as eager as their Anglo comrades to put their weapons and training to the fight in Afghanistan and beyond. European political leaders may have recognized they would need to invest in President Bush’s Global War on (of) Terror to realize potential gains in geopolitical and economic advantages.

Nevertheless, European politicians recognized they could not fight an illegal war, not necessarily because they had any less desire to pursue the same geopolitical and economic interests the US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom coalition pursued, but because they recognized the domestic political consequences they might suffer for fighting an illegal war of aggression.

Make no mistake, the US-UK led invasion of Afghanistan launched in retaliation for the terrorist attack, on 11 September 2001, which began the Global War on (of) Terror was as much an act of illegal aggression as the Austria-Hungary led invasion of Serbia launched in retaliation for the terrorist attack, on 28 June 1914, which began World War One.

Despite the many faults of international law and despite the attempts by the United States and its closest allies to pretend they are exempt from international law, it remains relevant.

European leaders, who most likely were as eager as their Anglo-American counterparts to fully participate in the Global War on (of) Terror, were constrained both by popular power and the power of international law.

Instead of joining the illegal invasion, European leaders eased their militaries into Afghanistan via the UN sanctioned International Security and Assistance Force, which then metamorphosed from a complex peace operation into an aggressive occupation force.

NATO leaders learned their lesson and were more politically savvy when the opportunity to invade Libya arose, in 2011. This time, politicians enlisted various nongovernmental organizations and the media to carefully portray the military mission as a moral and legal humanitarian duty framed within the new Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, which, coincidentally, was published, on 10 September 2001.

Yet the façade of humanitarian intervention in Libya did little to conceal the agenda for forceful regime change – an illegal act of aggression.

The ultimate myth: According to NATO’s strategic concept, NATO “thrives as a source of hope because it is based on common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and because our common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members. These values and objectives are universal and perpetual, and we are determined to defend them through unity, solidarity, strength and resolve”.

Reality: NATO is a war machine that exacerbated the US-USSR arms race during the Cold War and is again exacerbating a new east-west arms race potentially more disastrous than its predecessor. Reflecting the shared overarching strategic interest of its member states, NATO forcefully pursues the freedom for investors to expand free trade and secure their interests.

Protestors in Chicago prior to NATO Summit

In the current historical conjuncture, during which the American empire appears to be metamorphosing, as Ellen Meiksins Wood theorizes, into an American led Empire of Capital, the US desperately needs more than ever to exercise its power through like-minded multinational organizations with memberships that tend to share mutual geopolitical and economic interests. NATO is the military arm of this system.

Clearly the United States does not control NATO. History and the few examples cited above show that when the pursuit of an American interest conflicts with the interests of too many other NATO member states, the US does not get its way within NATO.

When US and other NATO members’ interests do intersect, however, the alliance is extremely dangerous.

Some strategic policy documents of the US and NATO are publicly available and reveal intersecting interests.

A thin veneer of diplomatic language and rhetoric about human rights, freedom, and democracy barely conceals the classist and racist-nationalist underpinnings of US foreign policy regarding the use of force. This is evident throughout the National Security Strategy 2010, the National Defense Strategy 2008, and National Military Strategy 2011.

The National Defense Strategy identifies the expected threats to the United States of “violent extremist movements” and “rogue states”, but also resurrects the Cold War era existential fear of Russia and China. A fear NATO members share perhaps even more viscerally for some.

The National Defense Strategy among other strategic documents indicates the United States has instituted a two-track engagement-containment policy towards Russia and China. The US clearly prefers economic engagement with both. The Cold War strategy of military containment remains in reserve, however, if either Russia or China fails to play by the free trade rules of economic engagement set by the US and its allies.

The US and NATO reliance on military containment is rejuvenating opposing institutions and reviving an arms race reminiscent of the Cold War.

Russia has instituted the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a counter to NATO power.

Most Western strategists downplay the CSTO as a mere shadow of the former Warsaw Pact. Nevertheless, the perceived need for Russians to invent the CSTO indicates their fears of NATO power.

Earlier this month, Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov threatened to pre-emptively attack NATO missile sites in Europe, if NATO proceeds with deployment of its missile-defence shield. The general’s threat indicates the level of threat NATO represents for Russians.

The China-Russia Strategic Partnership was also invented to counter US and NATO power.

The economic union of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian equivalent of the NAFTA, challenges Western penetration into Eurasia.

Beginning with the Bush administration, United States strategic documents identify China as America’s greatest existential threat. Despite the fact China’s military spending is a small fraction of US military spending, recent increases in Chinese military spending have whipped the US media into a fear mongering frenzy.

Hilary Clinton’s recent declaration of “America’s Pacific Century” describing a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region has undoubtedly increased Chinese and Russian fears of US expansion.

As at the beginning of the Cold War, fear mongers within the US-NATO block seem to be intentionally instigating a new arms race.

Who wins an arms race? The investors in arms manufacturing win of course.

Real freedom = free trade?

One overarching strategic interest – the pursuit of free markets and free trade – unites the Atlantic alliance, despite the tactical disagreements that fracture and could pull NATO apart.

The National Security Strategy 2002, also known as the Bush Doctrine, is a revealing document.

Critics focussed on the Bush Doctrine, because in it the Bush administration attempted to legitimize pre-emptive warfare. Pre-emptive warfare is a tactical concept contrary to international law, which Europeans were reticent to embrace before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the Bush Doctrine should be most notable for its chapter titled, “Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth Through Free Markets and Free Trade”. In this chapter, the Bush Doctrine defines “real freedom” as free markets and free trade and clearly identifies the pursuit of this freedom for the investors of capital as the overarching strategic objective of the United States.

Pre-emptive warfare is merely one of many tactics that can be used to achieve this strategic objective of pursuing free markets and free trade.

The identification of this overarching strategic objective within the Bush Doctrine received little criticism, because it is the liberal economic doctrine that defines the state policies of all NATO member states.

The Obama administration’s policy documents exhibit less incendiary language than those of the Bush administration, but they do not differ in substance. When President Obama speaks of securing freedom and America’s interests he is invoking the same policies as the Bush administration and all the policies of preceding administrations that led to the Bush Doctrine.

NATO leaders proclaim their “common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members”. We can assume their definition of freedom and security does not differ from the Bush Doctrine definition – “real freedom” is free trade and security secures the interests of the investors of capital more so than the interests of anyone else.

The lesson for peace activists is not only that we need more activism and more people involved in activism, but we need more strategically thoughtful activism. We need to mobilize every resource to constrain our less-than-democratic governments from pursuing more aggressive warfare. These goals are difficult, but not impossible.

Debunking the many myths that empower and perpetuate NATO is a tactical tool.

The fractures between the NATO member states are points where peace activists can pressure their respective governments to reject warfare and disassemble the institutions of war including NATO.

NATO is mortally susceptible to peace activists prying its interstate fractures open.

International law and the multilateral institutions that enshrine it are highly problematic, but they at least provide a minimal base to legitimize peace activism, and delegitimize the aggressive force states employ internationally and domestically to pursue state interests. Peace activists can use these resources without reifying them in their current contradictory forms.

As we can see in the cases of many of the European NATO member states, peace activists can thoughtfully use international law to constrain political and military leaders aggressive pursuit of state interests.

International law can be one of the levers peace activists use to pry open NATO and the aggressive Empire of Capital it serves until both fatally fracture under the weight of their own contradictions.

Michael Skinner is an independent researcher, human rights and peace activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been a Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada.

Read Michael Skinner’s academic papers and journalism at: and his blog at:

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Canadian Miners Make the Big Move into Afghanistan: And We Wonder Why “They” Resist from Afghanistan to Attawapiskat.

Mining in Afghanistan. Photo by Patrick Andrade

On 24 November 2011, the Government of Afghanistan awarded a Canadian mining company, Kilo Goldmines, approximately 25 percent of the stake to develop the massive Hajigak iron deposit in Bamiyan Afghanistan. A consortium of Indian companies won the other 75 percent of the development.

The Hajigak deposit – the largest iron deposit in Asia and possibly the world – is “truly significant on a global scale”.

Developing Hajigak among approximately 1,500 other geological deposits in Afghanistan is significant not only economically, but also geopolitically in the global battle for control of Eurasia.

Investments measured in the tens of billions of dollars are necessary to develop the Hajigak mine and the transportation, communications, and energy infrastructure needed to support it. This is big business at work at its biggest scale working in tandem with the most powerful and wealthiest governments in the world.

With the announcement that a Canadian mining company will begin to reap some of the dividends of Canada’s significant military investment in Afghanistan, you might think the story would have been front-page news in Canada. It wasn’t. The story only made news in the mining journals.

Not surprisingly, it was news for Afghans, however.

Canadian mining in Bamiyan, Bamiyan province, Afghanistan.

The city of Bamiyan, near Hajigak, is the capital of Bamiyan province and the centre of Hazarajat – the home of the Hazara people. The Hazara are one of many distinct nations that compose the diverse multi-national state of Afghanistan. They are also one of the most oppressed and persecuted of the many Afghan nations.

I visited Bamiyan in 2007. A geologist, I’ll call Aziz, who we met at the University of Bamiyan, first told us about the significance of the Hajigak deposit.

View from Shahr-e Gholghola across the Bamiyan Valley. Photo Michael Skinner

Aziz guided my research partner and I on the short climb up Shahr-e Gholghola, a squat mountain that sits alone in the centre of the Bamiyan Valley. Sitting atop Shahr-e Gholghola, with the verdant Bamiyan Valley as his backdrop, Aziz told us his story of war, empire, and mining in Afghanistan.

I wrote:

“Looking over the Bamiyan Valley, we can see that productive and sustainable agriculture fills every available niche in a delicate balance of nature. It is an extremely fragile environment, similar to the arid American southwest. Building a railway through the valley, spewing toxic waste into the atmosphere during the smelting process, and dumping tons of slag onto the watershed would have an incredibly destructive impact on the delicate ecological balance that has been maintained for millennia by local farmers. Aziz reminded us of the genocidal slaughter of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas as they were displaced to make way for economic development and the ecological destruction that resulted from resource extraction. Recognizing that, to this day, resource extraction practices continue to disrupt social and environmental systems, Aziz fears for the future of the Hazara people of Bamiyan and all Afghans throughout his country.”

Like so many Afghans I met, in 2007, Aziz did not believe the propaganda that a “humanitarian” empire invaded Afghanistan to liberate Afghans from oppression, or to secure the world from terrorists.

Many Afghans confronted daily by the brutal facts of war, believe an American led Empire of Capital invaded Afghanistan to liberate Afghans from their resource wealth, estimated at more than $3 trillion,  and to secure priceless geopolitical advantages for the most wealthy and powerful states, including Canada, that comprise this globalizing empire.

Whether these Afghans’ fears are accurate may be unclear. It is clear that hundreds of billions of dollars were invested in the military intervention. Now tens of billions of dollars are flowing into industrial development expected to benefit investors generally based in a few key financial centers.

The investment measured in human development projects that could benefit Afghans, such as repairing schools and medical facilities, can be measured in a few tens of millions of dollars. Investment in human development pales in comparison to investment in the military mission and now the investment in industrial development.

Who will benefit from Canadian investments in Afghanistan?

Ed Fast, Canada’s Minister of International Trade as well as Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, stated on 4 December 2011: “Canada is strongly committed to helping Afghans rebuild their country, and this investment by Kilo Goldmines will create jobs and prosperity for Afghans and Canadians alike”

Minister Fast’s claim might provide hope for Afghans and make investors in Kilo Goldmines feel good, but it is hardly based in reality.

The truth is that “Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world”, according to a study commissioned by, of all people, the Canadian mining industry itself.

Watch CTV’s W5 exposé of Canadian mining in Guatemala, “Searching for Gold at the end of the Guatemalan rainbow”, if you want to see the abhorrent ways some Canadian miners operate abroad and how the Canadian government supports these companies.

In 2005, in Solola, Guatemala, protestors blockade mining equipment destined for Canadian owned Glamis gold mine in San Marcos. The Canadian ambassador orders the Guatemalan president to end the blockade. One man is killed when police attack protestors.

Afghanistan will likely prove to be an even more difficult place for Canadian mining companies to do business than Guatemala.

But the people at Kilo Goldmines know how to exploit resources in conflict zones. Kilo made much of its fortune in the DR Congo, where, despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, government forces and insurgents continue to fight a bloody war that has killed an estimated 3 million people.

In Afghanistan, Kilo Goldmines and the other Canadian companies likely to soon invest in Afghanistan will be able to rely on the Afghan military and police forces for protection – that’s what we are training those Afghans to do after all.

Investors will undoubtedly line up behind the façade of the Government of Canada’s promise that “Kilo Goldmines will create jobs and prosperity for Afghans

Canadians need look no further than our own backyard to Attawapiskat on the Ontario shore of Hudson Bay to see how empty that promise may prove to be.

South African mining in Attawapiskat, Ontario, Canada

In the 1990s, the South African DeBeers Company proposed building a diamond mine to exploit a rich vein of diamonds beneath Attawapiskat land in northern Ontario.

You might think that if someone discovered diamonds buried in your backyard, you would become rich. Alas, in Ontario, like the rest of Canada, the law generally states, if a mining company wants to exploit the resources found on your land, the best you might hope for is to negotiate with the company for compensation.

Of course your ability to negotiate depends on many factors particularly how much money you can afford to pay competent legal advisors and negotiators.

The people of the Attawapiskat First Nation tried to negotiate fair compensation with DeBeers for years. The process divided the community between those who wanted to protect their ancestral land in its natural state, and those who hoped to benefit from exploiting their resources either by getting good jobs at the mine or by starting businesses to service the mine.

In the end, DeBeers was the big winner. The people of Attawapiskat lost at least as much as they gained in the Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) they signed with DeBeers, in 2005.

The diamonds mined on Attawapiskat land, since 2008, may not be “blood diamonds”, but there is no such thing as “clean diamonds”. Diamond mining may be marginally cleaner than some types of mining, but every mine affects the environment.

In addition to environmental concerns, the social and economic impact on the people of Attawapiskat has not proven positive. Only a fraction of the promised jobs ever materialised and the mining company does little business with the community of Attawapiskat.

Gaining a diamond mine in their backyard certainly didn’t help many of the people of Attawapiskat; most are worse off today.

Less than a year after miners began to dig up diamonds, the people of Attawapiskat began a series of protests in front of the DeBeers offices in Timmons, Ontario.

The protestors complained DeBeers was not upholding its end of their contract with the people of Attawapiskat. The people of Attawapiskat had expected their contract with DeBeers would at least mitigate if not solve their problems of inadequate housing, unsafe drinking water, lack of sewage and sanitation services, and their lack of an adequate elementary school.

Like so many other Indigenous communities throughout Canada and Quebec, the Government of Canada had consistently failed to uphold its promises to the people of Attawapiskat. Many people had false hopes that the deal with DeBeers would solve their problems; it didn’t.

Seeing that the protests at the DeBeers office, in 2008, did not yield results, the protestors took direct action in early 2009. They blockaded the seasonal ice road that services the mine.

The miners have only a few weeks during the coldest time of winter, when they can bring in transport trucks bearing supplies and heavy equipment via the ice-road. The mine is inaccessible overland for the rest of the year.

The protestors at the ice road blockade claimed DeBeers was not fulfilling the promises made in the IBA contract and they issued a list of demands to DeBeers.

The news media neglected the story for years. Among few reports is a mining journal that noted, in 2009, that “discontent is simmering”, in Attawapiskat.

Only in recent weeks have the horrific problems faced by the people of Attawapiskat hit the headlines in Canada.

The problems of the people of Attawapiskat may have been breaking news for most Canadians, but it has been the daily reality lived by Aboriginal Peoples displaced from their land in Canada and elsewhere.

Few if any articles that have exposed the reality of Attawapiskat in recent weeks, however, question the inequities of a South African diamond mining company reaping profits from Attawapiskat land, and governments reaping mining royalties from the mining company, while the people of Attawapiskat continue to suffer from poverty.

The processes of imperialism from Attawapiskat to Afghanistan

The processes of imperialism that investors and their governments employ during both war and peace, and the effects these processes have on people are hardly new.

Tactics have changed, since the East India Company first began to occupy India in 1600, and invaded Afghanistan in the early 19th century. The tactics have changed since the Virginia Company and Hudson’s Bay Company among others began to occupy North America.

The occupiers no longer justify their corporate missions as Christianising-civilising missions; today these are liberalizing-democratizing missions.

The intimate nexus of states and corporations in the past may have enjoyed greater public legitimacy than today. State leaders now pretend to separate state and corporate agendas, but they really are playing an ideological game of pretend with no foundation in reality.

Corporate mercenary forces were considered legitimate until the 19th century. But the Indian rebellion of 1857 against the military dictatorship of the East India Company ended that legitimacy. While perceived as problematic today, corporate mercenary forces are re-emerging as states offload many military functions to corporations.

Despite these and other tactical differences between the empires of the past and today, the strategic goals remain the same. The strategic goals are: that investors make a profit; and that corporations and the states that support them and are co-dependent with them for survival, stay on top of a globalizing system of free enterprise.

What happens to the people of either Attawapiskat or Afghanistan is only of concern in this system of corporate/state empire when it negatively affects the corporate bottom-line and the wealth and power of the occupying states.

I have no doubt many people in Canada, perhaps even a majority, are generally concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings in places like Attawapiskat and Afghanistan.

However, ours are not the loudest voices heard by the government. Look at lobby groups like the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE)  if you want to know who does have the most influential voices in government.

Another world is possible, however.

The 1st Occupy America movement

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Evictions and the (Re) Occupy Movement

15 November 2011

Police are forcibly evicting protestors from numerous Occupy Movement protest encampments throughout North America.

This morning, here in Toronto, police delivered an eviction notice to protestors encamped in a downtown park that will become effective at midnight. Before heading out to join the thousands of people who will fill the streets tonight to support the smaller core group of protestors who have been living 24/7 in St. James Park, I want to share a few reflections on the Occupy Movement.

“Why don’t the protestors get a job?” That’s a comment I hear repeatedly from opponents of the Occupy Movement.

Well let’s look at the facts. First many protestors do work, but for those who cannot find work, there are fewer jobs than ever.

Historically, when a recession has ended and GDP has returned to its prerecession peak, there has always been a time lag before employment also returns to its prerecession level.

Following the seven recessions that occurred from 1948 to 1981, the time lag between the return to prerecession GDP levels and prerecession employment levels averaged 6 months. It never took more than 8 months for employment to recover and in 1973 employment returned to its prerecession level only 3 months after GDP had recovered.

This gap between GDP recovery and employment recovery drastically widened during the next three recessions. In 1990, the recovery gap was 15 months, in 2001, it was 39 months.

These statistics were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They were published in June by a pro-business research publication McKinsey Quarterly.

Employment still has not recovered since the 2008 recession. The authors of the McKinsey Quarterly report expect the current recovery gap will not close until 60 months after the GDP recovery. So, based on the 2008 recession and subsequent recovery we could have expected employment would not return to prerecession levels for several years yet. But, unemployment levels were already too high before the recession.

Worse yet, it is becoming more clear by the day that we are now in a double-dip recession heading for a depression. So things look far more bleak for those seeking employment than it was when McKinsey published its dire outlook for employment earlier this year.

Here in Canada, 72,000 full-time jobs were lost in the last month alone.

Revealing the recovery gap of the last three recessions not only illustrates that many people are without jobs, it also shows that during the period of this gap those at the top gain wealth and power while those at the bottom lose.

“Why don’t the unions mind their own business and stay out of the Occupy Movement?” Yet another comment I hear often from opponents of the movement.

Well let’s look at the facts again. During the same period, since 1980, when we see the recovery gap lengthen, we also see workers’ wages and compensation flatten, even though their productivity continues to increase.

From 1947 to 1979, US productivity rose by 119 percent. This increase was almost matched by a rise in average total hourly compensation of 100 percent, which included wage raises of 72 percent.

During that time, all lower classes gained at a greater rate than the top 20 percent.

However, from 1980 to now, while productivity rose 80 percent, total compensation increased by only 8 percent, which includes wage increases of 7 percent.

At the same time, the bottom 20 percent, who earn $26,934 or less, have lost 4 percent of their share of compensation. The second lowest 20 percent, who earn between $26,935 to $47,914, have gained by only 7 percent. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent, who earn $112,541 or more, received gains of 55 percent, since 1980.

Americans have not seen such a level of inequity since before the Great Depression. The level of inequity is no different here in Canada, but our more comprehensive social welfare system does mitigate the worst symptoms of inequity, which are so visible in the US.

In the 1920s, the top one percent accumulated 23.9 percent of the national wealth in the US. Thanks to the activism of the workers who achieved the redistributive policies of the post-war social contract, the share of the top one percent had dropped to 8.9 percent by 1979.  Since neoliberal governments began reversing these redistributive policies in the 1980s, the share of the top one percent has again climbed back to 23.5 percent.

The average annual income for a member of the one percent is $713,000.

Once again these statistical findings were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They are the results of research by former US Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich published in the New York Times on 3 September 2011.

Playing an active role in shaping the macro-economy really is the business of unions.

Union leaders can no longer focus exclusively on the day-to-day needs of their individual members. Their concessionary bargaining of the past decades is now proven to be a losing strategy.

We can see the losses of labour in the huge growing gap as productivity and profits rise, but the compensation and wages for workers remain stagnant.

All workers – the more fortunate ones who have organised unions as well as the many more who remain unorganised – are losing their fair share of productivity gains, while the one percent profit.

“Why don’t the protestors have a unified demand that fits into a sound-bite?” Because real life is not that simple.

The growing gap between the one percent and the rest is only the tip of the iceberg of current problems. The Occupy Movement protestors confront a diverse range of economic, social, and environmental problems at domestic and global scales.

Furthermore, there is little consensus about how to fix the problems.

Some nostalgically seek a return to the postwar Keynesian system that in some aspects was a kinder-gentler form of capitalism until 1979. Many blame the implementation of regressive neoliberal economic policies, since the 1980s, as the primary reason for the current crisis.

However, that popular analysis fails to address the material economic failures that had doomed the Keynesian system to failure by the end of the 1970s.

It does not address the problems of an authoritarian system of labour relations where democracy stops at the workplace door and workers continue to be exploited for profit.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of international relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the global north offshore the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power so the greatest costs are born by billions of people in other countries who are hyper-exploited for their cheap labour and unprotected resources.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of domestic relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the urban economic centres offload  the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power  onto the poorest people of society, particularly the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

It does not address the environmental problems created by a capitalist economic system where wealth and power, regardless of how inequitably or equitably it might be divided between labour and capital, is built upon ecologically unsustainable exponential growth.

These are complex problems that require radical transformation of the current capitalist system into an economic system that serves the real needs of all people, not just shareholders lusting for profit.

If there is an overarching demand that unifies Occupy Movement protestors, it is the demand for free discussion of these issues in public spaces.

The protestors have certainly made a few more people think about and discuss the primary problems of our time. We can’t let that be suppressed.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.