Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Does Capitalism Work?

Extremely interesting and concise presentation which exposes some of the damaging effects of capitalism.

I really liked the cartoon which shows a guy who is faced with a "choice" between wage-slavery or starvation. The cartoon states that this is not a choice; it is a threat!!! I am quite sure that most people in the world today are threatened in the same way. The question is: when are we going to put an end to this threat?

Saturday, 25 August 2007

El Salvador, "Something to Hide", Maquilladoras / Sweatshops

This video shows why it is so important to have a socialist government in every country of the world!

"The Camera Is a Shield"- El Salvador Civil War(1981-1992)

No to war! YES to peace!!!

Ronald Reagan's War in El Salvador

After reading about the crimes committed by the Reagan administration, I really wonder how so many people can still consider Reagan as having been a good president!

El Pueblo Unido - Estadio Cuscatlan

One of the most beautiful songs for all the socialists around the world!

I really hope that following the next elections, El Salvador will finally have a socialist government!

Una Victoria Para el Socialismo: The Return of Daniel Ortega

May socialism spread to the rest of the world!!!

Feast of the Assumption of Mary - Mosta, Malta 3

Some more footage...

Friday, 24 August 2007

Feast of the Assumption of Mary - Mosta, Malta 2

More footage of the Mosta feast...

Feast of the Assumption of Mary - Mosta, Malta

Malta is still a very Catholic country. During the summer months, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to attending religious feasts since there appears to be one every weekend!

I captured this footage on the 15th August of this year. More videos related to the same feast will soon be posted...

Queen - Innuendo

This is one of my favourite songs! :)

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Public Transport in Malta

This is the time of year when the Maltese public transport is really put to the test. Apart from the usual local commuters travelling to and from work, there are also thousands of language students who use the public transport system regularly as they go to their lessons and visit certain places.

Unlike many other countries around the world, Malta's public transport system is limited to a number of buses. There are no trains, trams, or a subway system. Furthermore, many of the buses are fairly old, with very small seats, and low ceilings. Air conditioning is a privilege that only the tourists travelling in the private coaches get. Given the fact that in some buses, the windows cannot be opened (they are simply stuck!), the lack of air conditioning is a serious problem.

Malta's summer is extremely harsh. Although the worst months are July and August, June and September are also normally quite hot. Whenever there is a heat wave, even sitting down to read a book can be difficult without a fan or air conditioning. Imagine travelling in a Maltese bus during such times of the year without any air conditioning! The situation is even worse when one considers that these buses are frequently packed from morning to evening.

Many people say that since the bus fares are so low, one should not expect much. To go to several places around the island, each ticket costs € 0.47. I do not believe that this is a valid argument. The bus fares in Malta are low so that all people are able to use it; it would be terrible if only rich people could have access to the public transport system.

The bottom line is that the system needs to be improved. And this has to happen fast. Every year, I have a feeling that Malta is losing a certain percentage of potential tourists simply because they know that they can visit other countries where they can find much more comfortable transport. Perhaps the time has come for the government to invest in constructing an underground transport system and to get rid of the buses currently in use.

I strongly believe that the government has the necessary funds to improve the public transport system in Malta. Every year, we hear how public funds have been spent on projects of much lesser importance. As I see it, the problem is one of will; unfortunately, the government does not really seem to be interested in doing something about this matter.

The present government is totally cut off from how bad the public transport system is. With virtually all the Members of Parliament being driven around in beautiful air-conditioned cars, they cannot imagine the shocking discomfort of travelling on a Maltese bus. I am quite sure that if the Members of Parliament had to go to work using the public transport system, we would see some radical measures being implemented!!!
Malta will be witnessing its next general elections sometime next year. I really hope that a change of government will finally bring forth the necessary changes to see an improved public transport system that would benefit all the people living in the Maltese islands.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Dedication to My Wife

I would like to dedicate the following two songs to Wendy, my wife: Angel and Almeno Tu Nell'Universo. They are incredibly beautiful songs which take my breath away every time I listen to them. The lyrics are so beautiful!

Wendy, please click onto the following links and enjoy:



I love you, Wen! :)

The Leader's Ear

While taking a look at Wendy's blog (http://www.ladelirante.blogspot.com/), I came across a very interesting quotation by Woodrow Wilson, one of the former presidents of the USA: "The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people." Good food for thought!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Safeguarding Workers' Rights in Malta

There was a time in Malta, over 20 years ago, when the Malta Labour Party (MLP) and the General Workers Union (GWU) worked very hard to put an end to the unemployment problem tormenting various members of the Maltese society. The same organisations were also viewed as champions of workers' rights. During those days, the commitment to promote socialist beliefs was clearly evident when one listened to the representatives of the MLP and of the GWU.

Nowadays, it seems that both the MLP and the GWU need to reinsert the word "socialism" into their agendas. I cannot understand why there appears to be so little mention of the socialist ideology by the people who are suppoesdly struggling to transform the Maltese society into a perfectly socialist one. By adhering to ideological principles, it becomes easier to focus on the main goals that an organisation would like to achieve. Of course, such principles should not be seen as dogmas, but as guides to action. To those familiar with Marx's work, this notion is not new.

Over the past few years, Malta has witnessed a growing level of tension with respect to the idea of foreigners working here. As a Socialist, my stance is an internationalist one; I view all workers as human beings who have the same rights, regardless of their passport country. Nationality is something which is usually imposed on a person; which person was ever asked where he/she would like to be born? The typical employer rarely cares about an employee's nationality; he/she is normally more interested in determining the extent to which that person could contribute to increasing one's profit at a very low cost.

When it comes to employment, I believe that all human beings are born with the same right to have a job with a living wage and decent conditions. While some people would prefer to promote racist conflicts between the inhabitants of one country and another, I think that we ought to focus on safeguarding workers' rights, regardless of their nationality.

The MLP and the GWU need to keep their eyes wide open to monitor what is going on in various workplaces in Malta. Courses should be organised to inform workers about their rights and demonstrations should also be carried out against any acts of exploitation that cripple the lives of countless workers. Whoever turns a blind eye to such matters cannot be regarded as a socialist.

To conclude, I would like to mention the message of a poster that was used by one of the leftist political parties in Italy for Workers' Day. The poster stated that regardless of a person's skin colour, sweat has the same colour on everyone's skin. Let us all unite to safeguard workers' rights in Malta and in the world!

Sunday, 12 August 2007

TEFL Jobs in Spain: An Investigation

I spent almost a year of my life teaching English and Italian in Madrid, Spain. Although I enjoyed teaching, the experience opened my eyes to the various ways in which an individual can be exploited in a capitalist society. Indeed, I started learning about socialism's role to build a better world during the time I spent in Spain. This will be shown more clearly when I start transferring my diary pages to this blog.

The content of the following paragraphs is unlikely to go down very well with the many people who are currently earning thousands of Euros by promoting language teaching in Spain as a highly comfortable job. Before I go any further, I would like to highlight the fact that there are a handful of individuals who manage to find employment within a highly recognised school or within a Church school, but these are the exceptions - surely not the rule! Furthermore, the people who find the really comfortable, stable jobs are almost always citizens/residents of the European Union and have acquired a university degree in teaching or in a language. Having said this, let us now focus our attention on the hundreds of individuals who flock to Spain every year, especially from the US, to obtain a TEFL certificate after completing an extremely intensive 4-week course.

Before embarking on my relatively brief career in language teaching, I attended one of the TEFL courses in Madrid. I completed the course and achieved a Distinction. I started working shortly afterwards, but the conditions I encountered were totally unexpected. During the time I spent teaching, I befriended some other individuals who were also apparently hoping to settle down in Spain as teachers. This helped me a great deal to realise that teaching English in Spain was rarely a dream job. I continued to discover the shocking working conditions experienced by various teachers when I was employed by a TEFL centre which attracted several students every year. I remember reading the application forms of so many people, particularly from the US, who nurtured very high hopes of finding good teaching jobs in Spain. As a person who had gone to Spain prior to Malta's becoming a member of the EU, I knew what it felt like to try to find a decent job as an illegal immigrant. It was surely not a pleasant experience! Most of the US citizens who were longing to teach in Spain either underestimated such difficulties or were deceived by the TEFL centre's standard email reply which stated that most language schools in Madrid would employ an English teacher regardless of whether one had an EU passport or not. This was a huge lie and an encouragement to contribute to the black market economy in Spain!

In the past, many language schools might have not made a fuss about employing non-EU citizens as English teachers. Yet, when I was there (in 2003 and 2004), the number of schools which accepted non-EU citizens as teachers was quite small. The problems I faced when trying to find a job with one or more language schools before Malta became a member of the EU were often echoed by various US citizens after completing the TEFL course. I can still clearly remember various US TEFL graduates showing up at the training centre a few weeks after graduation saying that most of the schools that had received the CV/resume' were not interested in non-EU citizens. The few schools that accepted non-EU citizens normally offered very few teaching hours; surely not enough to earn a living wage.

Before I delve into the wages issue, I would like to mention another technique utilised by some people to deceive non-EU citizens into thinking that one's passport has little bearing on the ability to find a decent teaching job. The individuals cashing in the hundreds of Euros paid by the many naive non-EU TEFL students frequently said that they could help those people to obtain legal advice in order to obtain a work permit. This "legal advice" only consisted of referring the non-EU citizens to a lawyer they knew, knowing full well that the chances of getting a permit were extremely small.

There was a US guy in my course who got in touch with a school shortly after completing the TEFL course. As a native speaker, the school was interested in employing this guy. The school was not interested in fooling people around and it applied for a work permit. After NINE months of waiting, during which one is not allowed to work, the application was denied. This person informed my employers at the TEFL centre where I worked about the permit rejection; during future presentations to the students who attended the courses, my employers often mentioned the fact that a language school could apply for a work permit should they be really interested in a particular teacher; they never told the poor souls that the only case we knew about ended up with a rejection letter!!! To this day, I wonder how many US citizens ended up returning to their home country after coming to terms with the fact that working as an illegal immigrant was not really a desirable pathway to living happily in a beautiful country like Spain.

Brushing aside the work permit problems, the real life of several TEFL teachers in Spain reveals other facets that show the shocking level of exploitation exhibited by many TEFL teacher-training centres and language schools. I remember that many students were coming to Spain with the hope of living a relatively tranquil life and earning a decent wage. Countless TEFL graduates were hoping that shortly after completing the course, they could find a pleasant school which would offer them a contract with a fixed salary, decent working conditions, and a living wage. Based on my experience and that of many other language teachers I met in Madrid, finding a job that offered such characteristics was tantamount to looking for a gold mine.

When it comes to salaries, it is extremely hard to find a TEFL job which offers a fixed salary. This is mainly because some schools will only offer a few teaching hours per week and if a student drops out of a course or cancels a lesson, the salary will obviously be affected. No language school ever provided a mechanism to protect the teachers when faced with such situations. I remember that there were times when I was earning less than what many baby sitters were apparently earning on a monthly basis in Madrid!

The salaries tended to vary from one school to another. Some offered a shocking € 7.00 per hour while others were paying € 15.00 per hour. Most lessons normally lasted 1.5 hours. There was always the option of giving private lessons. I had a few private students and I used to charge € 15.00 per hour; the problem with such students is that unless you manage to get them to pay in advance for a course of lessons, you might end up with very little money once a student drops out or prefers to switch to a cheaper teacher.

Some of the people running the language schools in Madrid might tell prospective teachers that one could work for more than 20 hours per week. Although this is theoretically possible, very few teachers I knew worked for so many hours on a weekly basis. This is due to a number of reasons. First, one has to prepare the lessons. Second, most language schools will require their teachers to travel all over the city to give a lesson in one company and then move to another place to give another lesson. Apart from the fact that certain schools do not take transport expenses into consideration when calculating a teacher's salary, the travelling from one end of the capital to another is usually extremely tiring. One should not omit the fact that due to the working hours of most students, lessons are typically held either at 8AM, at 2PM, or at 6PM. There were many times when I used to return home at 09:30PM, feeling cold and starving after many hours of not being able to eat properly due to the travelling! Of course, the language school administrators and the people organising the TEFL courses do not usually care about the effect of all that travelling on the teachers because they are enjoying their comfortable jobs and the huge sums of money rolling into their pockets to buy their next expensive car!

When you end up working in a country as an illegal immigrant with an almost constantly varying salary, it is quite hard to be able to build a healthy social life. When I started understanding the news on Spanish TV, I sometimes came across features during which a trade union representative would talk about the need to legalise the thousands of illegal immigrants in Spain so that they could live decent lives like all the other Spanish/EU citizens living in the country. Unfortunately, I never read or watched any feature about the sad plight of the many illegal TEFL teachers in Spain!

When a person is working illegally, it becomes extremely difficult to negotiate better working conditions with one's employer. An employer will often try to sweeten the fact that there is no contract to protect the employee by saying that they are paying teachers higher salaries since they are not deducting any taxes from the monthly income. This might be acceptable to those teachers who are only in Spain for a few months, but I doubt that those individuals who move to the country with the hope of settling down there greet such news very enthusiastically.

Compared to other European countries, Spain is not terribly expensive. The cost of living is not particularly high. Having said this, a living wage is still necessary to cover one's survival expenses. Most teachers rent a room in a shared apartment since renting an entire apartment is virtually impossible to do with the average teacher's salary. When I was living in Madrid, the rent for a room in an apartment inhabited by other people varied between € 250 and € 300 per month. One then has to include the transport expenses, food and drink, and the bills. Until a teacher manages to have enough teaching hours to, at least, break even, it is highly recommended that a teacher has some money saved up for emergency situations.

One thing which many language schools and TEFL centres will not usually say unless asked is that there are times during the year when one's teaching hours - no matter how many they may be - can be reduced to zero at the flick of a wrist. This normally happens during July and August when many Spanish language students go abroad or decide to interrupt their courses for a holiday. Unfortunately, the teacher's landlord and his/her stomach does not take a holiday; one must still pay the monthly rent and eat in order to survive, but this could become pretty hard when you are not receiving ANY money for two months!!!

With no employment contract in force, there is no provision that teachers get paid during their students' holidays. Furthermore, if a teacher fails to give a lesson due to injury or illness, the typical language school in Madrid does not offer any sick leave payment scheme. You contract an illness which leaves you bedridden for a week...that means an entire week without earning any money! Tough, huh? The same applies to any vacation time that you might request; any time you take off means lost income. And did you think that the average TEFL teaching job in Spain was going to give you the stability, the income, and the time to be comfortable and be able to enjoy your life there?

It is often said that teachers can never prosper because the salaries that they earn in most countries tend to be on the lower end. Well, the teachers who work in government or church schools usually earn a salary which covers their survival expenses, have sick leave, are paid when their students are on holiday, and have many other rights. Why are most TEFL teachers in Spain treated very differently? Is it because they do not have a university degree in teaching? Or is it because they are easy targets to exploit?

I do not think that I would be exaggerating when I say that there are still many people who are currently working illegally as TEFL teachers in Spain. Several of these individuals might have been doing so for a number of years. It is so sad to realise that hardly anyone is struggling to improve the plight of such human beings. The fact that the Spanish government continues to make it so hard for countless individuals to have the same rights as any other Spanish/EU citizen working in Spain encourages various language/TEFL centres to earn thousands of Euros by toying around with the lives of the many non-EU citizens who go to Spain to live and work there legally. I doubt that there is any non-EU person working as a language teacher in Spain who enjoys being treated as a second-class citizen!!!

There is a huge need for more awareness about the shocking working conditions of countless TEFL teachers in Spain. It is essential for the people who want to stop the terrible exploitation of several teachers to unite. By working together, it will be possible to put more pressure on the Spanish authorities with the hope that many things could be done to help those teachers live comfortably in Spain and to prevent the various language/TEFL centres from making profits by indulging in illegal activities.

The Difference Between Religious and Scientific Thinking When Solving Problems

We had a problem with our gas cylinder earlier on today. Every time I tried to start cooking something, the burner flames would die out on me after a few seconds. Although I am usually described as a very patient person, this event was extremely successful at challenging my ability to remain calm in the face of trouble. The fact that I was incredibly hungry did not help the situation!

After trying my hand at a number of possible solutions, I drew the conclusion that the connector was no longer working. I, therefore, replaced it with the one that we had inside our gas heater. The result? The gas flowed once again and the cooker worked perfectly!!

This event made me ponder the difference between religious and scientific thinking when we are confronted with one of life's undesirable situations. I noticed that while a religious person might have blamed the gas incident on Satan or on some other unseen entity, a scientific person would have probably immediately set about making a list of the possible origins of the problem. Using the scientific mindset, it becomes much easier to attempt various techniques until the correct solution is found.

I do not wish to say that religious thinking is bad. I would only like to say that if God created us as scientific creatures, we ought to use science as a problem-solving and life-improving tool rather than resorting to other methods which have been shown to be less successful throughout history.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

An Unforgettable Dinner at the Capriccio Restaurant

Last Wednesday, my wife and I went to have dinner with a couple of friends at a wonderful restaurant called Capriccio. The latter is in St Julian's, close to the Vivaldi Hotel.

I had some tuna as a starter. This was followed by a few slices from a massive Bistecca Fiorentina. The meat was cooked medium-rare; the way I like it! The fillet was accompanied by roast potatoes and vegetables. For dessert, I had chocolate cheesecake - absolutely delicious!!! The food was delicious and the service was excellent.

The evening was packed with laughter. Indeed, I laughed so much that my stomach ached and I even succumbed to a bout of hiccups! Laughter is surely the best medicine, especially when it occurs in the company of good friends.

Visit to the Alternattiva Demokratika Party's office

This morning, Wendy and I visited the Alternattiva Demokratika Party's office in Sliema. Our visit was motivated by the fact that my wife supports this party. Even though I am a Socialist and will not vote for this party during the next general elections, the individuals we met were very pleasant and energetic.

On Thursday afternoon, I went to see if the office was open so that my wife could go to introduce herself. The door was closed, but the PRO guy was waiting there and we started talking about various topics. A few minutes later, I saw Dr Harry Vassallo (the party leader) walking towards us. I had often seen him here in Sliema, but we were simply familiar strangers to each other. After shaking hands, we spoke a bit about my wife's interest in the party and about a common friend of ours. We also talked briefly about the US's foreign policy. Before proceeding on my way home, I recommended Noam Chomsky's Failed States to Dr Vassallo. The book is a must for whoever is interested in learning more about the behaviour of the Bush administration and about its consequences on an international level.

Image taken from http://utopia.knoware.nl/users/oterhaar/greens/europe/malta.htm