International Workers Day

From marxist.org,

The origin of May Day is indissolubly bound up with the struggle for the shorter workday – a demand of major political significance for the working class. This struggle is manifest almost from the beginning of the factory system in the United States.

 

Although the demand for higher wages appears to be the most prevalent cause for the early strikes in this country, the question of shorter hours and the right to organize were always kept in the foreground when workers formulated their demands against the bosses and the government. As exploitation was becoming intensified and workers were feeling more and more the strain of inhumanly long working hours, the demand for an appreciable reduction of hours became more pronounced.

The continual fight for worker’s social, economic and political rights continues till this day in more than 80 countries around the world that celebrate International Workers Day. While what exactly constitutes the working class is not always clear – it is apparent in most nations that the employed, the subordinates, the man on the ground need a voice.

See protests videos and pictures from around the world that underscore the global nature of this ongoing fight. Whether it is a march against austerity measures, rising costs of living or stagnant wages – workers and unions continue to make known to governments and corporations that the current economic and political system continues to disproportionately disadvantage their class.

At home, the usual top-down message from PM Lee that reaffirmed the tripartite system had to compete for airtime with ground-up rally organized by Gilbert Goh of transitioning.org that protested the white paper and the government’s plans to let in more immigrants.

Reading about the Olympics…

You know the GP essay question about sport is never really about sport itself, but about the many issues surrounding it and its function or purpose for society. With the ongoing London Olympics, sport comes packaged as a global spectacle celebrating the epitome of human strength and spirit for all the world to see, to applaud, to criticize. Here are some articles I’ve read on the games so far that might be worth a look:

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The Value of Titles Questioned

Ever wondered what the values of honors were? Honors under the UK system are conferred to individuals of considerable achievement and service to the its credibility recently came under some scrutiny in Britain in light of the stripping of Fred Goodwin’s – the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland – knighthood.

Key criticisms center on how the decision to annul his knighthood was a highly politicized one that seemed to come on the heels of anti-business hysteria following some though financial crises in recent years.

This article from The Guardian mentions how former chancellor Alistair Darling has been leading a political backlash, citing how it seem “tawdry” how government leaders seem to be directing fire at specific business individuals on a whim and without more a thorough due process – especially since the fault in such failures can hardly be pinned so easily on one man. Will Heaven from the Telegraph was more scathing, claiming how the move reflected how “British honours system is now fully politicized…” and that David Cameron is merely “pandering to the mob”.

Andreas Whittam Smith from The Independent goes a little further to suggest how the system, specifically the conferring of titles in the higher divisions, exacerbates widening societal divisions:

“I also dislike titles because they exacerbate divisions within society. We have heard a lot recently about the widening gap in financial terms between the haves and the have-nots. Moreover, we live in a country where the disparity is unusually wide, second only to the US. The use of titles exacerbates the condition. Whereas an order, say OBE or Légion d’Honneur, elicits respect, a title demands deference. Titles are harmful.

Simon Heffer from The Daily Mail cautions that such a controversy would never have erupted if the titles themselves had been more carefully considered in the first place:

If prime ministers were no longer able to shower honours like confetti on their cronies or on people whose only talent was to be popular with the voters, the system would suddenly become far more reputable […] Had Mr Blair only ten or 12 awards of Knight Bachelor to bestow in the Birthday Honours of 2004 instead of 23, would Fred Goodwin have made the cut? The spectacle of the removal of his knighthood will only have convinced the public — not that they needed convincing — that the process of awarding these things is almost casual. If the system is to continue, it must be drastically reformed…

 

McBaguette Anyone?

You don’t need to be a business student to appreciate how the success or failure of certain companies sheds light on the importance of contexts, culture and people. Read the article below and consider why McDonald’s is fairly successful in Singapore as well. 

Born in the USA, Made in France: How McDonald’s Succeeds in the Land of Michelin Stars

France — the land of haute cuisine, fine wine and cheese — would be the last place you would expect to find a thriving fast-food market. In a country known for its strong national identity and anti-globalization movement, it seems improbable that McDonald’s could have survived the onslaught of French social and political activism. In 1999, José Bové, an agricultural unionist, became a hero to anti-globalization supporters when he and his political group, Confédération Paysanne, bulldozed a McDonald’s in Milau, France, to protest against U.S. trade restrictions on French dairy products. With bullhorn in hand, he declared to the television news cameras: “We attacked this McDonald’s because it is a symbol of multinationals that want to stuff us with junk food and ruin our farmers.” In 2004, amid the nutritional controversy sparked by Morgan Spurlock’s documentarySupersize Me, McDonald’s was declared in French media to be the epitome of malbouffe, or “junk food” and deemed partly to blame for the nation’s rising obesity rate.

And yet McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food corporation, with a global presence in 123 countries across all six inhabited continents, has turned the home of Le Cordon Bleu cooking academies and the Michelin Guide of world-renowned restaurants into its second-most profitable market in the world. The chain has more than 1,200 restaurants in France — all locally owned franchises — and a growth rate of 30 restaurants per year in the past five years alone. What is at the heart of this impressive growth that has stunned French observers and surprised business analysts? The three main reasons for McDonald’s success are local responsiveness, rebranding and a robust corporate ecosystem.

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Disadvantages of Capitalism

Look at the world around you. How does the economy move? How do we move things around and allocate scare resources in a world of unlimited wants? Is the current predominant system of capitalism with its economic and socio-political focus on privatization and the continuous pursuit of profit, really the best system we have at the moment, as argued by Francis Fukuyama? Or will the rumblings of its imperfections ultimately cause humanity to move on to a totally different system altogether, as envisioned by Marx?

As gleaned from ‘Occupy’ movements, it’s evident that inequality is a key gripe among many. Paul Krugman writes that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would be utterly disappointed by how inequality between class continues persist although racial differences have been somewhat muted. Even the recent scrutiny on local ministerial salaries seems to suggest a growing desire to see the public office as something separate from the private sector’s high-income winners of the system. This list of the biggest disadvantages of capitalism also provides some insight into the flaws of the system that the may have received little media or government attention.

Is there a viable alternative then? Can you really imagine the world making a concerted effort in moving beyond this current system, or would minor tweaks suffice to keep everyone happy and progressing together?