I Pity the Poor Immigrants, pt. 2

Poland is terrified about Brexit and hordes of immigrants. Not those savages from the Middle East but their own citizens coming back to Poland.  It means now it will have to develop a domestic jobs policy as Poles return to Poland only to face mass unemployment. Well, what do you expect when the official policy was “Go to the UK and find work because there’s none here and we have no idea what to do about it.”

This is what scares the government and not just PiS, but all governments before them. Besides, if the EU crumbles, who will give them money?


Work and bread



Tony Benn on the EU “I can think of no body of men outside the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do”




Brexit. French demonstrations. Right wing governments. Sanders. Trump. People have had enough…




Voting to leave the EU is a no-brainer for the Left. The European Union is remote, racist, imperialist, anti-worker and anti-democratic: It is run by, of, and for the super-rich and their corporations. A future outside austerity and other economic blunders rests on winning the struggle to exit the EU, removing us from its neoliberal politics and institutions. Corporate bureaucrats in Brussels working as agents of the big banks and transnationals’ now exert control over every aspect of our lives. Neoliberal policies and practices dominate the European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank, European Court of Justice and a compliant media legitimises the whole conquest. This has left the EU constitution as the only one in the world that enshrines neoliberal economics into its text. Therefore the EU is not—and never can be—either socialist or a democracy.

Against the left’s strategic case for exit is relentless blither and blather from the elitist liberal commentariat: the EU is a social-democratic haven that protects us from the nasty Tories is their litany and verse. This is an absurd fantasy: by design the EU is a corporatist, pro-capitalist establishment. Therefore, it strains credulity that the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a rump of the trade union movement believe in the myth of Social Europe. The late Bob Crow was bang on the money when he said: “social EU legislation, which supposedly leads to better working conditions, has not saved one job and is riddled with opt-outs for employers to largely ignore any perceived benefits they may bring to workers. But it is making zero-hour contracts and agency-working the norm while undermining collective bargaining and full-time, secure employment.”

The only thing that should remain is the truth: a social Europe was never part of the European Union super-state project. How could it be? The EU has always travelled on the “free trade” train alongside “free” movement of capital, business-austerity, flexible labour markets, low pay, privatisation of public services and the eradication of welfare states. These were not just random policy proscriptions, but specifically designed by ‘free-market’ fanatics. It was the deepening and integration of the EU project that allowed unelected policy makers, driven by the powerful EU corporate lobby, to circumvent and eradicate the social rights that were won by workers in the aftermath of World-War-Two. Creating democratic deficits in all the EU institutions and policy-making by unaccountable technocrats enabled and accelerated this process of dismantling rights. This arrangement ensured the neoliberal Holy Trinity of public spending cuts, privatisation and the removal of trade union rights could be enforced with little contestation.

It’s worth noting the continuity of contempt by the European Union elites towards public opinion. Jean Monnet the founding father of the EU understood democracy was an obstacle to the elitist project and had to employ a degree of deception: “via money Europe could become political in five years” and “…the current communities should be completed by a Finance Common Market which would lead us to European economic unity. Only then would … the mutual commitments make it fairly easy to produce the political union which is the goal.” Jean-Claude Juncker, today’s unelected EU chief makes clear that nothing much has changed, “when it becomes serious, you have to lie.” “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”

Neoliberal logic is insidious and some trade union leaders in Britain seem bewildered by it all and continue to argue that some kind of utopian Social Europe exists, offering protection for workers in Britain. In reality the Social Chapter, while it potentially gave some extra legal protection on a few issues, was never much more than crumbs: a gesture to disguise the reality of the European Union as a bosses union. What protects workers in Britain is not the social rights from benevolent bureaucrats in Brussels, but our collective strength and ability to organise and take action.

It was organised struggle by workers’ and their trade unions in Britain that created the 1948 Factory Act, the 1970 Equal Pay Act and so on right through to the National Minimum Wage. To argue that we would lose our right to annual leave if we left the EU is ludicrous and just another part of the Remain project-fear campaign. We’ve had holiday pay enshrined in UK legislation since 1938, and if the Tories were desperate to withdraw these rights, why haven’t they at least scaled them down to the EU minimum in their six years in power? The answer is democracy. Unlike the unelected European Commission, the Tories face the British public at the ballot box at every general election. And lets be honest, even Eton Tories know withdrawing employment rights isn’t a vote winner.

The consolidation of the EU treaties and judicial rulings into the European Constitution—renamed the Lisbon Treaty—meant even the concept of a Social Chapter was the stuff of Alice in Wonderland. EU member states that have been ‘bailed out’—the bailout funds actually went to French and German banks—by the troika have suffered the biggest fall in collective bargaining rights in the world. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) collective bargaining rights have fallen by an average of 21% across the ten EU countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, and have fallen by a massive 63% in Romania and 45% in Greece. The anti-trade union laws and polices passed and implemented in the UK are actually just regional versions of the articles laid down in the Lisbon Treaty. The message is clear: the EU is no place for trade unionists.

The EU is also no place to be young. In fact they have most to lose if we remain in the EU. An over competitive education system, the closure of vital youth support services and the introduction of student loans has meant that young people have fewer opportunities than their parents generation. With the EU being the world’s low growth region, with 23 million unemployed, the social fabric is deteriorating at an alarming rate. In some EU countries youth unemployment has pushed northwards of 50%. Outside of the EU we would be able to prioritise building a society without unemployment and with secure, skilled, well paid jobs. We would be able to tackle the unaffordable housing market and enable young people to develop again free from the chains of debt. Young or old: the toxic mix in the EU of low growth, low productivity and mass unemployment means a bleak future.

The EU is no place for internationalists either. It is a racist ‘Fortress Europe’ project doing everything it can—including allowing refugees to be shot or drown in the Mediterranean every day—to prevent those fleeing from Syria and neighbouring countries being able to enter the EU. Those who do get to EU shores end up locked away in brutal concentration camps. Those at the sharp end of EU trade policy have also been brutalised. The EU conducts economic terrorism on a global scale through aggressive global trade policies and structural adjustment conditions, in particular towards African states. This has served only to deepen their poverty and inequality whilst enriching the white EU 1%. Nor does it build meaningful solidarity between EU states; through the lens of Greece and Germany we see tensions not witnessed since 1945.

Inequality and intimidation doesn’t just exist between the EU and the so-called developing nations either, but the strong EU economies such as France and Germany prey on what they call the ‘peripheral countries’ in Southern and Central Europe. The institutions of the EU have relentlessly and very deliberately imposed the misery of neoliberal austerity and privatisation on these economically weaker countries. Governments across the EU have used EU Treaty rules as cover for this robbery of public wealth.

Real internationalism is workers’ solidarity throughout Europe. The working class are facing the same fight against low pay, casualisation, cuts and privatisation in every country of the EU. Right across the EU workers are hoping the UK exit so they too can demand referendums. There is no doubt a successful UK exit would have huge support, and be emulated, across the continent. That is why the bankers and institutions of the EU were so desperate to force the Syriza government in Greece to its knees: in order to demonstrate to workers in other EU states the fate that would await them should they demand democracy and an end to austerity. It may have backfired. The Syriza government’s capitulation has forced the Greek working class to demand Grexit. If Syriza had only stood firm and implemented the socialist policies it got elected on it would have been kicked out of the Eurozone and even the EU, but by developing a real alternative to austerity it would have inspired millions of EU workers to demand their liberation.

The social disintegration, economic decline and democratic deficit across the EU seem to surprise some. They should not. The major EU policy initiatives such as the Single Market Strategy, European competition policy, Economic and Monetary Integration and the Growth and Stability Pact have put “free” trade and “free” capital mobility, fiscal restraint and business-austerity before the collective interest. In other words the 1% always come before the 99%: the employers always come before the workers. Only in Pinochet’s Chile—where democracy was also absent—have we seen such an embedded programme of neoliberalism. It ruined Chile’s economy too.

A new multi-nation survey from Pew Research Centre finds that Euro-scepticism is on the rise across the EU. It found the EU’s image and stature has been in rapid decline in recent years. In a number of nations the portion of the public with a favourable view of the Brussels-based institutions have fallen markedly in recent years as the economy collapsed. Nevertheless, dogged by defeatism and despair some on the left are terrified of Tory mavericks Gove and Boris. They should recognise that by voting to Remain, these buffoons will still be around. Moreover, they should ask why Cameron, Osborne, the CBI, IMF, WTO, World Bank, US and the entire armoury of finance capital want Britain to Remain. To improve workers rights? Don’t think so. From Yannis Varoufakis to Caroline Lucas—there is no shortage of postmodern opportunists lining up to claim it is better to stay in the EU and try to reform it. What they don’t have—and can’t have—is a strategy. The EU constitution doesn’t allow it.

The late Tony Benn summed up the whole issue: “We are discussing whether the British people are to be allowed to elect those who make the laws under which they are governed. The argument is nothing to do with whether we should get more maternity leave from Madame Papandreou (a European Commissioner at the time).”

For those still struggling to understand why we must leave the EU: It’s democracy, stupid.



I Always Wanted to be Invisible and Now I Am

A year ago at a literary festival in Wales, I met a woman. It was at a reception at a castle that had a beautiful park and a regal view of the Welsh landscape. I had no companion to the reception, knew nobody there, and was circling with a glass of champagne trying to make it look as if I was waiting for someone who had just briefly stepped out of the picture. Then suddenly a woman appeared in front of me. Hello, she said. Isn’t it a breathtaking view? I nodded, and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. She was British, I was Danish. She pointed at a small man with a cell phone behind some shrubbery in the park: My husband, she said, and who are you with?

I told her that I was with nobody. I also told her that it was a bit strange to be with nobody amid scenery that so much called for somebody. But I’m a writer, I said, I’m used to traveling on my own. She looked at me as if I was mirroring something, and I was: We were both two middle-aged women at a reception without men (not counting the husband in the shrubbery) and it called for some narrative.

The woman explained to me that she had been a very successful lawyer. For over twenty years her career had escalated, she had become a star attorney, and there was not a week where she didn’t have to meet with the people in 10 Downing Street. She was someone, and therefore had to work around the clock and it was great fun, it was super interesting, it was high profile, and it was very exhausting. When she reached her mid-forties her husband (Mr. Shrubbery) had suggested that she slow down. It was too late to have children but never too late to rediscover themselves as a couple, and to be frank she wasexhausted from all the Prime Ministerial counseling. So she let go of her job and found herself a lower profile one. No more cab rides to the center of power, just a briefcase, her 46th birthday coming up, and then the husband who would chew his toast very slowly in the morning. Perhaps he always chewed his toast that slowly, it’s possible, she just hadn’t been around to notice it, but there it was: slow chewing, and she had all the time in the world to witness it.

The worst thing, however, the woman told me and leaned in, was that this career change collided with my disappearance as a woman. You could say that I was no longer somebody, but I was also becoming a person with no body.

I nodded. There was something recognizable in this picture. I said:

So the cars don’t stop for you when you want to cross the street anymore?

She shook her head. I said:

You ask a younger man for directions at the railway station and he ignores you?

She nodded. I said:

You have an interesting conversation with a couple of men and a younger woman enters your circle, and the conversation is suddenly over?

She nodded and I finally threw the ace on the table:

Men you know are leaving their middle-aged wives to date women who are in their twenties and early thirties?

She raised her glass of champagne.

I could have told this woman that I write stories about women like her, but at that point her husband was done with the shrubbery and decided to join his wife again: End of conversation.

But I do write books about middle-aged, childless women on the brink of disappearing—or you could say—on the brink of losing their license to live. If a woman has kids, she will always be a mother, but a woman who has chosen not to procreate and who now no longer is young and sexy is perceived by many as a pointless being.

In my book So Much for That Winter I introduce two middle-aged women struggling with visibility. In the first novella, Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, we meet Minna, a composer in her forties. Yet another superficial lover has left her and with him he took a potential rehearsal space that Minna just might feel more passion for than the man himself. Minna is sick and tired of “toning it down.” She’s losing her voice, her essence, her vitality, from doing so. She therefore decides to get rid of the people who are restraining her and instead go find a rehearsal space, i.e., a room in which she can experiment, elaborate, grow without being controlled by the needs and expectations of others. In the second novella, Days, we meet a woman who is trying to heal a broken heart while figuring out what is truly important to her. Is it a man? Is it motherhood? Or is it creation itself and not necessarily through the womb but through being as such? While spring is blossoming around her she writes lists that like nature itself spill over and turn into something new and fruitful. This middle-aged woman can’t restrain herself either. On the brink of becoming invisible she insists on being visible.

The interesting thing is that middle-aged women on the search for essence and their license to live can come off as quite provocative characters. Some people regard them as lacking self control—or even worse; they are conceived of as “self absorbed.” A middle-aged woman who’s not preoccupied with handling herself or taking care of someone else is a dangerous, erratic being. What is she up to? And what’s the point of her being up to anything? She has no children, she has no family, the only thing she has is her own life and what good will that do anyone when she’s no longer a star attorney at 10 Downing Street, or when she doesn’t have a rehearsal space where she can compose her music, or when she’s in the process of turning into spring itself: Overflowing, no longer firm and contained, but escalating, growing wild.

When I was a little girl, my parents took me to visit my great aunt Barbara. She was an old woman who lived in a little red brick house in a small village in Western Jutland. I was told two strange things about this woman:

1) She never married and had no children.

2) She had been running the biggest farm in the parish.

On the walls of her house were pictures of the extended family and also of my aunt herself: tall, strong, rustic. If she had been Spanish there’s no doubt she would have been a flamenco dancer: Duende! Oh, yes, she had soul. I remember sitting on the stairs in front of her little house. There were blossoms everywhere and I was puzzled by the fact that this woman—unlike my artistically talented mother—had lived a life without husband and children. It felt as if I was being given an important lesson: A woman can be in the world on her own and it doesn’t necessarily make her invisible. It just might add a different kind of visibility to her. The aunt was in need of nothing, and because nobody was claiming her attention all the time (which I had already noticed was to be my creative mother’s destiny), she had time to just be in the world. My favorite story of my great aunt Barbara is that she went to America to visit her older sister who had emigrated in the early 1930s. Aunt Barbara was 75 years old when she got on a plane for the first time in her life. Never asked herself whether or not she could do it. Never asked anyone if she could or should do it. She just did it.

In a world where women are almost always defined by their relationships (daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother, grandmother) it strikes me as important to shed a light on the woman herself. What is she without all these shoes she has to fill? Well, she’s an existence and she’s an existence that either disturbs her surroundings—or is in the danger of retreating from them: like mist.

I was recently on a Danish radio show. The radio journalist had asked me all the usual questions, and I had given her all my usual answers, and here’s the strange thing: I never get asked why I find it important to portray human beings who are on the threshold of losing themselves—or gaining insight into their true natures. I often get asked why I write about women who look like myself, which is a puzzle to me. There’s not a journalist in the world who knows me well enough to know who I resemble, but anyway; there we were in the radio studio. The mic was turned of, and then out of the blue the journalist told me that she was turning forty soon. She also sighed and said: I’m so glad that you write about middle-aged women without children. I asked her why, and she said: Because there are so many of us, and because it quite often feels as if we’re not really here.

I wish she hadn’t turned the microphone off! That would have been a strong statement to air, and something to grab hold of for the many women who are no longer young, no longer the sexy one, no longer worth helping out in the subway, no longer worth stopping your car for when she stands there with her grocery bags and her saggy breasts, no longer worth the intellectual conversation, no longer on screen, no longer in the movies, no longer counted, no longer… somebody—or as I asked an older Swedish feminist once:What would you say is the strangest thing about becoming an older woman? And she answered: Woman?! I’m no longer a woman, and then she laughed her heart out, because what else can you do when the only alternative to becoming an older woman is dying young or—as many women choose in their fight to stay visible—subject themselves to Botox, knives and scissors, pain, and ridicule.

The two women in So Much for That Winter are women on the brink of invisibility. They are captured from within while they’re struggling to grab hold of the most important and beautiful thing a human being can possess: Duende! Soul! Presence! And when I wrote about them I felt that presence myself.

The importance of having a voice, being in the world, even though nobody needs you to be there, is especially stressed by the woman in Days (translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra), and I’ll let her have the last word. She deserves it:

8. Perhaps I spend too much time in cemeteries, I thought,

9. and lay down on the floor, vanished corporeally, and if I don’t exist, everything up to this point doesn’t exist either, my history, America, the stone I walk around with in my pocket, and then what he wrote last winter,

10. and if none of those things exist, sorrow doesn’t exist, and then tomorrow doesn’t exist either,

11. I thought, unable to breathe, for that which doesn’t exist cannot breathe,

12. for there aren’t many advantages to being that which doesn’t exist, except for being able to walk through walls and listen at doors,

13. and I’d heard it all now, so what is that?

14. Got to my feet,

15. placed myself over by the window,

16. listened to one of the neighborhood dogs and stayed with it through thick and thin,

17. thought, Why doesn’t anyone let it in? and could feel I was no longer a young woman

18. just a woman who has lived longer than my neighbor and the dog down there and many of the dead, and a thousand years ago I would have long since been laid in my grave,I thought, but look at me now,

19. mournful, alive, and kicking.

20. and I’d like to be able to believe in tomorrow,

21. and I can’t do anything but;

22. I’m hopelessly up the creek in the situation.

On the Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women

--- Kind Love! --- - 2N6ii-10g - print




We are Slavs and they are slaves


Ohhh, look at a major country stand up and shake their fists! I’m sure they’re trembling and the EU rejoicing that someone had the guts to stand up to them.Thing is, North Koreans are the Mexicans of the labor market, the Polish building industry especially. At $200 a month, they are even cheaper than Ukrainians. And imagine, needing a work visa for the privilege of working as a slave. But then again, who should know more about cheap labor…? I wonder if there is a major EU investigation about to happen or maybe like the nurses they are demanding a living wage and humane working conditions?