Friday, March 16, 2018

International Women's Day

By Stephen Wilson

"I don't want presents on this day. I find it funny to
see so many men running around buying expensive
flowers and presents for their girlfriends. But what
women need is for men to respect them and not to
scold them at home. They should try and create a
more peaceful environment at home where both of
them feel relaxed!" stated a young economist from
Siberia called Anastasia. She was not referring to
International Women's Day which is held on the 8th
of March but Saint Valentine's Day. It seems that
many men feel under obligation to lavishly shower
their girls with presents on both occasions despite
the fact that the former is largely a Western
tradition. Yet I suspect her words apply to both
occasions suggesting different women want
something more than just presents and pretty
speeches but active respect and acknowledgement
where they are not treated as an abused object or taken for granted cleaner.

Witnessing the eve of International Women's Day
itself remains a fascinating spectacle. Men appear
to rush around two days before the event purchasing
flowers at a cheaper rate to avoid the spiked-price
rise on this date. You see men frantically hunting out
all kinds of gift shops. Given the amount of flowers
which are sold on this date you might as well rename
it : The Day Of Florists!

The original political roots of such a day remain
obscure to most young Russians. It is no longer
held to be a day of protest as in the west but often
another 'Day off'. The day was originally
commemorated to remember American and German
female strikers seeking to improve better conditions.
Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemberg, on the 8th March at the second congress of the Socialist 
International , persuaded delegates to commemorate the efforts of women protesters in
Prussia during the revolution of 1848.

Now if you read government posters hung up in
shops around Moscow you simply hear that it is
The Day of Spring, Beauty and Love. One wonders
if women are being fobbed off. The fact is that the
social status of women has tumbled alarmingly.

Even physically beating up a woman is no longer
viewed as a serious crime but a mere domestic
dispute where the police are under no obligation
to intervene even if it results in murder. A recent
horrific case arose when a woman appealed to
the police to defend her from her ex-husband who
was threatening her with death. The police woman
answered: "We will only come to you when you
are dead". Shortly afterwards, the poor woman
was murdered by her ex husband. The police
officer who answered her happened to be a
woman! The abuse of women ought to be seriously
addressed on this and many more occasions!

A recent survey indicates that the attitude of Russian
women appears to be ambivalent and don't justify
prevailing conceptions that Russian women are
very passive, submissive and complacent concerning their plight. According to one survey by the Atlantic service Rambler, as many as 27% would prefer to cancel such a celebration as they don't see much to be happy about.
However, some research by sociologists indicates
that most Russians share in carrying out domestic
chores such as doing the shopping, taking the dog
for the walk as well as giving lessons to their children. 

However, 57 % of women expect men
to fix things and 75% believe he should contribute
more to the family budget than women. Svetlana Wilson told me: "I'm not against celebrating such a day. I only object to being told that I have to celebrate this day by the government. I would prefer to celebrate out of my own choice".

A 16-year-school girl Natasha told me : "I like how
they are celebrating it in the West with meetings and
rallies where they can raise issues. But in Russia how we celebrate it in comparison seems primitive".

I once came across a Russian musician who told
me: "Unlike in the West, we don't have emancipation in Russia." I lamented, if only it were true. Dream on!


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Gun Control

By Stephen Wilson

Legend claims that Sarah Winchester, the
daughter in law of the inventor of the
Winchester rifle, was endlessly tormented
by the ghosts of all the victims of his
gun. The ghosts warned her that if they did
not build houses in which to entertain them,
she would be cursed. So she endlessly
built homes for the spirits for the next 36
years. A door built in Winchester house
has the following painted words : Road
to Nowhere. It might seem that those very
words apply to the tremendous efforts of
advocates for stricter gun controls in
America. Each time they appear to be
making progress, for example in
persuading some gun manufacturers to
add tighter safety mechanisms to guns
so only the owner can use them, or
stricter controls preventing mentally ill
people acquiring guns, those reforms
are reversed or rolled back ! Even
very modest proposals to limit gun control
are greeted by a hysterical overreaction
by the lobby of the National Rifle
Association. The government and the
N.R.A. don't seem to feel tormented
or troubled by the families never mind
victims of gun homicide. Even the latest
tragedy on 14th February where 17
students and teachers were killed does
not move them.

Many cynics claim that attending a mass
protest demonstration on March 24th in
Washington in favor of stricter controls
won't make a difference. It is all in vain.
Those young school students will lose
their idealism as they succumb to the
mass pressures to be realistic. In any
case, since those mass killings are largely
caused by mental illness there is not
much you can do ! If those killers could
not get guns they would use knives !

A proposal by Trump actually advocates
arming the teachers. When my Russian
colleagues and students heard this
proposal they were shocked! An
English teacher Oksana Chebotareva
told me: "That is crazy ! It won't work.
It would not work in Russia as we have
some unbalanced teachers who might
just do something crazy ".

American teacher and journalist Jim
Vail posted on Facebook: "Would you like to be a
black teacher holding a handgun when
the cops turn up?" In the aftermath of
the latest mass shooting we have not
heard much about 'the shoot to kill policy
used by American cops against innocent
black drivers.

Some of the arguments by the pro gun
lobby are absurd . Children simply asking
for stricter control of guns are being called
dupes of socialists who want to grab
everyone's right to arms. But there are
no such concrete proposals.

Would stricter controls make any difference?
It certainly would if we put it in proper
perspective. Of the approximately 35,000
Americans that die each year from gun
homicide only a fraction are the result of
mass shootings. Careful research further
indicates that people who suffer from mental
illness are more likely to be the victims
rather than the perpetrators of violence. As
many as 2/3 of gun deaths are due to
suicide while the remaining 1/3 is due to
homicide and accidents. Contrary to the
statements by some politicians, mental
illness is not the main cause of deaths.
For instance, take the case of Chicago ,
when in 2017 a teacher at the Waldorf
school was caught in some cross fire
between gang members. She just
happened to be in the wrong place at
the wrong time when a gang member shot
her by accident. What is no accident is
the fact that a lot of this gang warfare
happens in the poorest parts of the city
where the social services have been
cut back in the name of austerity.
A recent research project by the Rand
corporation seems to lend support to
the view that the advocates of improved
gun controls are not naive or irrational
but have a very valid point. The research
vindicates the claim that measures to
control firearms could in deed, save lives.
The research , based on a 2 year review
of past studies and the guesses of experts,
suggested the following possible impact of
certain measures.

For instance, passing an assault weapons
ban might prevent 170 mass shooting
deaths a year.

Furthermore, experts who condone gun
control calculate that passing a universal
background check law could prevent 1,100
gun homicides each year.

Raising the age limit for purchasing firearms
could prevent 1600 homicides and suicides.
This report appears to be available on the
Internet. If I were a gun control advocate I'd
quickly download this report and bring it to
any meeting or rally.

Campaigning can make a distinct difference!
Not long ago Glasgow was the murder
capital of Europe as many people were
killed in gang disputes using knives. A lot of
people thought stricter control of knives
would not make any difference. Yet when
the police decided to adopt a more novel
approach where they tried to offer potential
gangsters a better path by addressing
wider social and economic problems the
number of deaths fell drastically. In fact,
not a single person was stabbed to death
by a knife in Glasgow last year. Yet people
previously said it was impossible. They
should now eat their hats!


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Book Review Dunkirk

William Collins, 2017 London

The huge black and white photo of an
officer dawning a military uniform
dominated my grandmother's room.
Who was he ? The photo remained an
inexplicable conundrum. It seemed sad.
It was in keeping with this ancient grey
granite town Dunfermline which had
known better days as the former capital
of Scotland where the palace now
stood in ruins and a plaque at a tower
reminded tourists of how ;
'The King sits in Dunfermline town,
Drinking his blood red wine. '

I asked my grandmother "who was
the man in the photo ? " only to be
told he was Uncle Alan and shown some
old mementos . My mother told me
not to keeping asking questions as
it upset my grandmother. He had met
a premature death.

It was my Uncle Jim who broke this
long tense silence. He told me :
"Your uncle was sent as part of the
British Expeditionary Force to fight
the Germans and he and his chums
got stuck in Dunkirk. They were asked
to guard the retreat to the beach by an
officer. After placing a machine gun
at the top of a road they looked back
only to discover the rest of the soldiers
and their officer had fled. So they also
did not wait around and ran away. They
ended up on the beaches of Dunkirk
being bombed by Stuka dive bombers.
When one plane dived to drop a bomb
they ducked for cover. When your
Uncle rose he called to his friends but
they did not get up! They were all dead.
Well, your Uncle jumped into the sea to
a ship in the far distance and swam to
it. When he got there he was exhausted
but taken aboard. He was taken back to

I now grasped my Grandmother's
reticence. Of course, I had heard a lot
about Dunkirk but not in concrete detail.
So I was pleasantly surprised to come
across a well written, readable and
intriguing book :' Dunkirk ', by Joshua
Levine. It was fascinating! I could hardly
put it down. It took me just two days to
read it. The reason it is captivating is that
the book attempts to see Dunkirk not
through the eyes of a scholar or one
authoritative source but the soldiers,
sailors and airmen who were there. The
book also boasts of an exclusive
interview with the Film Director Chris
Nolan who made a recent film about it.
For anyone unfamiliar about Dunkirk the
basic narrative was that the Germans
launched an offensive, on 10th May 1940
through the Lowlands and into France
against the combined forced of the
French and British. The French
presumed that their Maginot line was
impregnable and that they would
easily repel any attack. However, the
Germans launched operation Sickle
Stroke where they poured 1 million
soldiers and 1500 tanks through the
Ardennes forest at break net speed.
They side stepped the Maginot line
splitting the allied forces in two even
surrounding them. The British decided
to evacuate their army and successfully
rescued 340,000 British and French
troops from the 26th of May to the 4th
of June 1940. However, the losses were
still staggering . Nine allied destroyers
and 200 civilian vessels were destroyed.
Many soldiers were taken prisoner, lost
and equipment abandoned.
Levine attempts to put the whole war in
context and covers the historical
background to the war. I learnt a lot of
new facts about this event. The author
argues that everyone has their own
narrative of Dunkirk and we should not
be too judgmental. Levine records
soldiers cracking up, taking off their
clothes to commit suicide by running
into the sea and some soldiers digging
themselves into sand dunes to escape
the reality of war. One of the most
amusing incidents is how some soldiers
were seen sailing aboard a door with
bottles of wine to refresh themselves.
When the rescue plan Operation
Dynamo was conceived, the High
Command estimated they would be
lucky enough it they could save 40,000
soldiers. In fact, they ended up saving
almost ten times that number.

Levine explains why. He tells of how
soldiers and sailors improvised piers,
soldiers repelled German attackers and
the Royal Air Force did a lot to keep
the German planes from attacking
those on the beach. The rescue
operation was helped by so many
civilians in small vessels as well as

What emerges from reading the book is
the chaos, confusion and panic of the
retreat from the Germans. There was also
a lot of paranoia which led to an innocent
British airman who had bailed out being
shot as suspected German spy and so
many others. Levine mentions how the
resentment against the R.A.F. was not
justified as they were fighting against
German planes far from Dunkirk to stop
them taking off . The soldiers on the
ground could not see how their action
was imperceptibly saving lives. One
poor airman who was stuck on the
beach was not allowed to board a ship
because of this anger. He spent the rest
of the war as a prisoner of the Germans.

Levine who worked as a history
consultant on Nolan's film Dunkirk
writes: 'One of the things that stuck
Nilo Otero as he worked on the film was
how semi religious Dunkirk was as an
experience for the British people. 'It
was the first time anything went right
in this fucking war', he says. 'It literally
was a miracle . An actual miracle. And
I think the British people took it as a
sign that this could go right.'

Bemused British soldiers returning to
Britain who expected to be scolded by
the public found instead they were
welcomed home as heroes and given
free food, drinks and compliments by
complete strangers. Churchill
reinterpreted Dunkirk not as a defeat
but a moral and spiritual victory! The
army had survived to fight another day .
Levine quotes a survivor George Wagner
state: "We wanted to survive as a
country. It was about comradeship and
everyone together helping".


Saturday, March 3, 2018


Letter from Our Reader!

The students will get involved in a movement to pass a few laws about guns. They will support bourgeois politicians whose job it is to rope them into the system. There will be no real changes, so they will get demoralized. Meanwhile, they will not really study why this is happening, the real history of the US, etc. They will not see that the problem is the system itself. The system will thus be safe and secure.
Then some of the students will, "reluctantly," run for office themselves, or support some reformist politicians who promise to "help" them. They will get their supporters to waste all of their energies in getting them elected. Again, the system wins.

If a few of the students or politicians win, they will get sucked into the "realistic" game, of what can be "won" by being "realistic" and making "compromises." Which is exactly nothing. Then they will have to win re-election, so even more compromises and accepting money from the same sources as other bourgeois politicians ("lesser evil"). In the end, they will be bourgeois politicians supporting the system like all the others. And another opportunity to expose and fight the system will have been lost and wasted.

And the system wins again.

Ad nauseum.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

People freezing to death

By Stephen Wilson

'Coal all spent : the bucket empty : the
shovel useless;the stove breathing out
cold ;the room freezing: the leaves outside
the window rigid, covered with rime: the
sky a silver shield against anyone who
looks for help from it. I must have coal;
I cannot freeze to death ; behind me is
the pitiless stove , before me the pitiless
sky, so I must ride out between them and
on my journey seek aid from the coal
dealer '.

The extract comes from Franz Kafka's
short story called 'The Bucket Rider'
which captures the desperate plight of
a man freezing to death because he
can't heat up his own room. The story
has an unreality about it in the sense that
the man attempts to maintain his fragile
dignity by flying on a bucket to beg for a
free piece of coal from a coal merchant.
The story captures many of the sharp
anguished emotions of a poor person.

Kafka was from Prague but readers can
be forgiven for believing that he was
Scottish. For every year more old
people die in Scotland from the cold than
in the whole of Siberia ! The reason is
because they can't afford central heating.

What strikes the foreign visitor is how
cold many houses are in Scotland. It is
not uncommon to witness some couples
watching television huddled under a
blanket. As a student at university I recall
I studied in the library during the winter
because it was warmer. My mother told
me: "It does not matter how much I heat
up this house. It still feels very cold. I wish
it would get warmer."

One great plus about living in Moscow is
how warm it is. The pipes are bursting with
warmth and the heating is relatively cheap.
According to some reports, Scots cut
down on healthy eating in order to heat
their homes. Frank McNally an education
convener for a Lanarkshire council stated;
"It is horrendous to think that in the 21st
century Scotland children are coming to
school malnourished , but it is a sad reality
that some families face the choice of
heating their home or feeding their

An April 2017 survey by the National Union of Teachers found that 80% of teachers noticed 'holiday hunger' with as many as a 1/3 of pupils showing signs of malnutrition. Teachers are rightly concerned as this hunger impairs their school kids' performance by negatively
influencing concentration and cognitive
abilities.This is why Lanarkshire council is
going to introduce a new pilot scheme,
titled "Food 365" , at Easter, in Coatbridge
where children can take free meals
every day including the holidays . The
proposal costs an estimated 50,000
pounds. Many teachers support
extending this scheme on a nationwide
basis, but the British government hell
bent on their austerity program,
predictably opposes it.

After almost thirty years of austerity, in
Britain, which has included cutting
social benefits off completely should
an official deem it proper, has led to
a mushrooming of 'food banks' where
poor people queue up to obtain free food
from charities! It is a real indictment
of the British system of government when
their own people now feel hungry and
often have to choose between heat and
hunger. The Bucket rider might as well
have been written in the 21st century


Tuesday, February 20, 2018


February House of Delegates Meeting CTU
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) held its Feb. House of Delegates (HOD) meeting in a simple fashion.

The CTU Financial Report by James Gillmeister stated that the union is currently analyzing the future financial ramifications from the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Janus that may result in no longer automatically deducting union dues when you join the union. How much fair share revenue will the union lose if teachers do not want to pay the union?

The CTU has currently sublet about one-third of the space it was renting at the Merchandise Mart. The union had anticipated to sublet at least two-thirds, which has created a hole in the budget, Gillmeister said.

The Financial Secretary Maria Moreno said about 80 percent of the teachers voted in favor of merging the charter school teachers into the CTU. 

There are 29 new CTU retiree delegates and ten are 85 years or older, Moreno said.  

VP Jesse Sharkey gave his report. President Karen Lewis was not in attendance. Lewis had also missed the Jan. HOD meeting.

Sharkey told the delegates that the CTU intends to stop school privatization by joining up with the charter schools to make a stronger team. Former charter union president Chris Baehrend noted that the charters have also negotiated good contracts, including one charter that has a 23 student class size cap.

Sharkey said to beware of the Illinois Policy Institute - a pro-business, anti-union, right-wing, anti-tax group which will send out info. to CTU members to try to convince them they shouldn't pay their union dues. Since these clowns represent businesses, that's like telling consumers not to buy products. If enough union members decide to not pay their union dues then the union will cease to exist (and teachers will earn Catholic school wages).

"We need to build our base of power," Sharkey said.

There is a Working People's Day of Action Saturday, Feb. 24 at 11am at the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams, CTU wear red that is a response to upcoming anti-union ruling expected by the US Supreme Court. The CTU flyer reads: "No mayor, no court, no governor, no president, and no corporate bully can stop us when we unite to fight for our rights, our communities and our futures."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Teacher Fired

By Stephen Wilson

A Russian professor has been fired for
sending a letter demanding that the
current Prime Minister clarify why the
wages of local teachers have not been
adjusted in line with inflation since 2012.
But no explanation was forthcoming.
Instead , the teacher was dismissed.

Perhaps the prime minister felt he had
better things to do such as feeding his
adorable ducks on his estate. The teacher,
Victor Makarenko, is a professor from
Taganrog Matellurgical college, who was
dismissed by the director, has 40 years
of teaching experience behind him. The
open letter ,which was published by Red
Vesna news agency, completely exploded
the myth that the May declaration of 2012
which promised to double the wages of
teachers had been fulfilled. Even
President Putin, in what was a crass
understatement, claimed at a conference
last year on 14 December, 2017
that 7% of teachers had not been given
the promised increase.

In the letter, the teacher asks why the
Rostovskoi authorities violate article 134
of the Labor code which stipulates that
salaries of teachers must be increased in
line with inflation. The letter declares:
'If absolute pay for 5 years has not grown
by a single kopek the reported rate of
inflation has reached double figures... the
real existing pay has decreased one and
a half times. ' In fact teachers are existing
below the poverty level earning as little
as 8,289 rubles. Makarenko points out that
just to raise salaries to the poverty level
the state would have to increase it by 40%.
The government claims that it has raised
the national average of teachers to
30,000 rubles a month, but whenever
anyone mentions those figures to teachers
it evokes laughter. To acquire the official
salary teachers would be forced to work
day and night in schools 7 days a week.
They would cease to have any free time.
In fact school teachers are often doing
60-70 hours week just to get by. As a
representative of the Union teacher
succinctly put it to me : "Teachers are

A teacher stated : "Yes, it is
possible to earn 30,000 rubles. If you
forget about your family, forget about
children, work without exception, take
on administrative duties, do a lot of
overtime, and literary spend a lot of
time , day and night at school.'

The reasons for the pay problem has
long been evident. Pay has fallen due
to a deepening crisis, austerity, and
the rising debts which local governments
have been amounting.The total regional
debts which local governments owe
come to a staggering 2.2 trillion rubles.
In order to pay teachers, local
governments are being forced to draw on
private creditors whom they often can't
pay back. The crisis of teachers' pay is
likely to intensify as the crisis deepens.
Of course, the likelihood of a pay increase
on the eve of the presidential election can
not be dismissed, but this would represent
a cynical move by the state. Most ministers
live in a world of their own where they
prefer to hear what they want to hear!
To borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens,
'A leprosy of unreality' surrounds Russian
members of the Duma. Some of them
only learned about the plight of teachers
one year ago and even then they found
this injustice difficult to grasp.

Victor Makarenko only published what
was well known to most teachers and
what even some ministers actually admit
though prefer to understate or play down.
Victor Makarenko must be reinstated
immediately and the Director called to
account for grossly violating the law on
freedom of speech and the press. If
need be, mass protest in the form of
demonstrations and strikes may have
to be used to wake up some deluded
directors that that they can't fire teachers
on a whim just like a spoiled child breaks
up a toy which hurts him at a nursery!

Medvedev should start feeding teachers
and not just the ducks!