Archive for the ‘Chartism’ Category

YouTube Video for Book ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’

February 22, 2019

This is the video I’ve just put up on YouTube for another of the books I’ve self-published with Lulu, For A Worker’s Chamber. This argues that parliament is dominated by the rich at the expense of working people, and so we need a special parliamentary chamber to represent working people, composed of working people themselves.

Here’s the blurb I’ve put up on YouTube.

This is another book I published with Lulu. It was a written as a challenge to the domination of parliament by the rich. 75 per cent of MPs, according to a recent book, are millionaires, including company directors. As a result, parliament under Tony Blair, David Cameron and now Theresa May has passed legislation favouring the rich and big business.

The result has been the destruction of the welfare state, privatization, and increasing misery, poverty, starvation and homelessness.

The book instead argues that we need a chamber for working people, elected by working people, represented according to their professions, in order to give ordinary people a proper voice in parliament. The Labour party was originally founded in order to represent working people through the trade unions. The Chartists in the 19th century also looked forward to a parliament of tradespeople.

Later the idea became part of the totalitarianism of Fascist Italy, a development that has ominous implications for attempts to introduce such a chamber in democratic politics. But trade unions were also involved in determining economic policy in democratic post-war Europe. And local councils in the former Yugoslavia also had ‘producers’ chambers’ for working people as part of their system of workers’ self-management. Such as chamber would not replace parliamentary democracy, but should expand it.

I discuss in the video just how Tony Blair allowed big business to define government policy as directed by corporate donors, and how staff and senior managers were given government posts. He particularly favoured the big supermarkets and other firms under the Private Finance Initiative. This is extensively discussed by the Guardian journalist, George Monbiot, in his book, Captive State. I make the point that this wouldn’t be quite so bad if New Labour had also acted for working people. But it didn’t. And it has become much worse under Cameron and Tweezer. In America the corporate corruption of parliament has got to the extent that a recent study by Harvard University downgraded America from being a functioning democracy to an oligarchy. I also point out that, while I’m not a Marxist, this does bear out Marx’s view of the state as the instrument of class rule.

I discuss how the Labour party was founded to represent working people by the trade unionists in parliament, who were originally elected as part of the Liberal party, the ‘Lib-Labs’, who were then joined by the socialist societies. The Chartists at one of their conventions also saw it as a real ‘parliament of trades’ and some considered it the true parliament. I also talk about how such a chamber became part of Mussolini’s Fascism, but make the point that it was to disguise the reality of Mussolini’s personal rule and that it never actually passed any legislation itself, but only approved his. Trade unions were strictly controlled in Fascist Italy, and far greater freedom was given to the employers’ associations.

I also say in the video how trade unions were involved in democratic post-War politics through a system which brought trade unions, employers and government together. However, in order to prevent strikes, successive government also passed legislation similar to the Fascists, providing for compulsory labour courts and banning strikes and lockouts.

There are therefore dangers in setting up such a chamber, but I want to empower working people, not imprison them through such legislation. And I think that such a chamber, which takes on board the lessons in workers’ self-management from Communist Yugoslavia, should expand democracy if done properly.

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A Seasonal Musical Attack on the Tories: the Universal Credit Songbook

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day, Mike also put up another piece of musical satire and anti-Tory criticism. This was the Universal Credit Songbook, where some clever clogs has taken the tunes of traditional Christmas carols, and given them fresh words attacking the Tories’ murderous policies, and particularly Universal Credit.

Mike posted an example, tweeted by Imajsaclaimant, which runs

Away in a bedsit,
No crib for a bed
My mother is silent,
When will we be fed?

My mother is crying,
But I’m wide awake
No money for presents,
Five more weeks to wait

This seems to have inspired Michael Fulcher, who posted another piece to the same tune commemorating the death of Gyula Remes, the Hungarian man, who died outside parliament.

See Mike’s article https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/its-the-season-for-christmas-carols-how-about-a-couple-from-the-universal-credit-songbook/

Socialism and working class protest, has a rich musical heritage, and this, and other recent anti-Tory songs are part of this. Songs like Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’, as well as past favourites like ‘Liar, Liar’, also about May and her inability to tell the truth, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’, about her former education secretary and her attack on state schooling.

The Wobblies’ Songbook

The Chartists in the 19th century also composed songs expressing their demand for the vote for all adult men. There are also many folk songs from the 19th century celebrating strikes and attacking poverty and exploitation.
The Labour party, at least in Bristol, had a choir back in the middle of the last century or so.

The radical American syndicalist trade union, the International Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’ of the early twentieth century, were particularly known for their songs. Their songbook can also be found on the web at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/iww.html

Many of the songs celebrate and promote the union, the power of working people and specific, heroic individuals, while others bitterly attack the owners and managers. One such is ‘The Parasites’ by John E. Nordquist. This runs

Parasites in this fair country,
Lice from honest labor’s sweat;
There are some who never labor,
Yet labor’s product get;
They never starve or freeze,
Nor face the wintry breeze;
They are well fed, clothed and sheltered,
And they do whate’er they please.

2. These parasites are living,
In luxury and state;
While millions starve and shiver,
And moan their wretched fate;
They know not why they die,
Nor do they ever try
Their lot in life to better;
They only mourn and sigh.

3. These parasites would vanish
And leave this grand old world,
If the workers fought together,
And the scarlet flag unfurled;
When in One Union grand,
The working class shall stand,
The parasites will vanish.
And the workers rule the land.

See: http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/usa/parasite.htm

Clearly, you don’t have to be a radical syndicalist wanting to see the working class utterly replace capitalism and its owners and managers to see that the poverty it describes is coming back, and that workers do need to stand together to demand real change under some form of socialism, like the reformism of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn here, and the radical left of the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US.

Mike hopes that Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’ will be the new No.1 this Christmas. It won’t be, but it should, if only to see the BBC go spare and try to avoid having to play such an explicitly left-wing song. I hope it, the UC Songbook and the other ditties attacking May and the rest of the Tories and their corrupt backers also get very many views and downloads, and inspired more people to sing, strum and drum against them.

They must never silence us!

Books ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’ and ‘Crimes of Empire’ Published with Lulu

May 11, 2018

This week I’ve working on publishing my books For A Workers’ Chamber and Crimes of Empire with the print on demand publishers, Lulu. This has now been done, and the books are now available, if anybody wants them.

For A Workers’ Chamber is my book arguing that as parliament is dominated by millionaires and company directors, to be really representative working people need their own parliamentary chamber within it. My blurb for it runs as follows

The book argues that working people need their own separate chamber in parliament to balance the domination of millionaire MPs holding directorships. It uses Marx’s analysis of the state as an instrument of class domination, and examines schemes for working people’s political autonomy from the Chartists, through anarchism, syndicalism, Fascism and the system of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia, as well as the corporative management system adopted in post-War Europe. This set up negotiations between government, management and unions to settle industrial disputes and manage the economy.

It’s ISBN is 9780244386061.

Crimes of Empire is the book Florence suggested I write all that time ago, about how America and the West has overthrown generally liberal, socialist regimes, and replaced with them Fascist dictatorships when they have been an obstacle to western corporate or political interests.

The blurb for this runs

The book discusses the current wars fought by the West in the Middle East, and shows that these are not being fought for humanitarian reasons, but are part of a long history of American coups and political interference since World War II. These have been to overthrow regimes that have blocked or resisted American corporate or political interests. This policy is behind the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, the invasions and attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, and conflicts with Russia and Iran.

It’s ISBN is 978-0-244-08662-6.

Lulu are at http://www.lulu.com/

These are the print versions of the books. For a Workers’ Chamber is £4.50 and Crimes of Empire £10.00. The prices are exclusive of tax. I am planning to make e-book versions of them, which should bring the price down further for people who want to read them on computer or Kindle.

‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ Cover Art

April 21, 2018

Okay, I’ve completed the cover art for another book I wrote a few years ago. Entitled For a Workers’ Chamber, this argues that as most MPs are millionaires and company directors, who legislate in favour of their own class, there should be a separate parliamentary chamber for working people, elected by working people, to represent and legislate for them.

I go through and survey the various movements to put working people either in parliament, or create legislative assemblies especially for them, from the Chartists in the 19th century, the Soviet movements in Russia and Germany, anarcho-syndicalism, Fascism and the corporative state, and post-War British form of corporativism, in which unions were also to be involved in industrial consultations, before this all collapsed with the election of Maggie Thatcher. Who was also a corporativist, but had absolute no desire to involve working people or their unions. It also discusses the system of workers’ self-management in the former Yugoslavia, where workers not only had voice in running their factories, but there were also legislative assemblies at the local and national level specifically to represent them.

I haven’t been able to find a mainstream publisher, so I’m going to publish it with the print-on-demand people, Lulu. Here’s the art.

I hope you like it.

Radio 4 Series Next Week on History of British Socialism

February 14, 2018

Radio 4 is broadcasting a new series on weekdays next week (19th-23rd February) on the history of British Socialism, entitled British Socialism: The Grand Tour. The episodes are only a quarter of an hour long, but it’s a ten-part series with an omnibus edition at the end of the week. The programmes begin on Monday, and are on a 1.45 in the afternoon. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Anne McElvoy traces the emergence of socialism in the UK and examines three competing approaches to changing Britain in the interests of working people, comprising utopian visiosn of transformation, local co-operative societies, and plans to take contral of the central state.

Here are blurbs for the other programmes, and the day’s they’re shown.

Tuesday
The Chartists

Anne McElvoy explores how Chartism emerged in the 19tyh century as the first truly national working class mass movement.

Wednesday
The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

Anne McElvoy explores the great Victorian tradition of mutual self-help, visiting Rochdale, where a small band of workers gave birth to the co-operative movement.

Thursday
The Revolutionaries

Anne McElvoy traces William Morris’ steps from wallpaper designer to revolutionary, as well as the dreams and romantic visions of his friends.

Friday
Keir Hardie

Anne McElroy traces how Keir Hardie, an ex-Liberal trade unionist, became leader of Britain’s socialist Parliamentary party.

The omnibus edition is on Friday evening at 9.00. The paragraph covering it in the Radio Times simply states

The first of two omnibus programmes. Anne McElroy traces the emergence of socialism in the UK, from utopian visions of transformation to the arrival of Labour MPs in Parliament in 1906.

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.

Chumbawamba Sing the Chartists’ Anthem

September 13, 2016

I found this video on YouTube of the left-wing pop group, Chumbawamba, singing the ‘Chartists’ Anthem’. This was composed in the 1840s for the Chartist movement, the early 19th century campaign to get working men the vote.

It’s also struck me that this song is extremely relevant once again, with Tom Watson and the Blairites in the Labour party trying to throw out everyone, who wants to return the party to its roots as the party of the poor and the working class, battling poverty and unemployment on the one hand; and the Tories under Theresa May doing a bit of gerrymandering on the other with their constituency review. This is intended to cut the number of MPs in Westminster, and incidentally keep Labour locked out of power.

Chartist Woman Demand the Working Class Vote

May 14, 2016

Chartism Royle pic

I found this piece from the ‘Address of the Female Political Union of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to their Fellow-Countrywomen’, in the Chartist newspaper, Northern Star, of 9th February 1839 in Edward Royle’s Chartism 2nd Edtion (Harlow: Longman 1986). Chartism was the early 19th century movement campaigning for the vote for working men. Royle says in his introduction to the piece that

Chartism involved women as well as men as active participants, and there were many local women’s groups, like this one from Newcastle. But women’s Chartism was hardly a movement for women’s liberation. Chartism was seen as a movement for the emancipation of the poor, and was thought o fit traditional patriarchal terms. (p. 114).

I’m not sure. Other books on Chartism have said that a few of the Chartist radicals did want the vote for women, and about the same time, the Spencean Philanthropists, an early proto-Socialist group of radical democrats, did want the vote for women, as well as children. Quite apart from the first stirrings of modern feminism in the followers of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication of the Rights of Women. And even if most Chartist women did their political activism in terms of getting the vote, not for themselves, but for their menfolk, nevertheless they were pioneers in that they consciously broke the social rules against women becoming involved in politics, as this piece clearly states.

Fellow-country women, – We call upon you to join us and help our fathers, husbands, and brothers, to free themselves and us from political, physical and mental bondage, and urge the following reasons as an answer to our enemies and an inducement to our friends.

We have been told that the province of woman is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to me; this we deny; the nature of things renders it impossible, and the conduct of those who give the advice is at variance with the principles they assert. Is it not true that the interests of our fathers, husbands and brothers, ought to be ours? If they are oppressed and impoverished, do we not share those evils with them? If so, ought we not to resent the infliction of those wrongs upon them?…

For years we have struggled to maintain our homes in comfort, such as our hearts told us should greet our husbands after their fatiguing labours. Year after year have passed away, and even now our wishes have no prospect of being realised, our husbands are over wrought, our houses half furnished, our families ill-fed, and our children uneducated – the fear of want hangs over our heads; the scorn of the rich is pointed towards us; the brand of slavery is on our kindred, and we feel the degradation. We are a despised caste; our oppressors are not content with despising our feelings, but demand the control of our thoughts and wants! – want’s bitter bondage binds us to their feet, we are oppressed because we are poor …

We’re seeing something of that today, with the poverty forced upon the working people of Britain by decades of Thatcherite political orthodoxy, from both the Tories and the Blairites. 590 people have starved to death or committed suicide due to the government’s savage benefit cuts. 290,000 or so have had their mental health made significantly worse through stress from the Fitness to Work tests imposed by the government. And 4.7 million people now live in ‘food poverty’ in one of the richest countries of the world.

This situation has partly come about through successive government ignoring the poor and working class. Blair and his coterie did. They concentrated on gathering middle class votes from swing voters, and pandering to the view that everyone below them was idle, and savage cuts to the welfare state were needed to force them back into work. One of the Blairite MPs in parliament even said that, in power, Labour would be harder on the unemployed than the Tories! And meanwhile, Cameron was doing his level best to strip the vote from the young, the poor, and ethnic minorities through his voter registration scheme. Just like the Republicans were doing in America. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and it shows!

We need to invigorate working class politics against, to show that the working people of Britain matter, and that their poverty is literally killing this country, just like the Chartists did in the 19th century, though hopefully without their mistakes and failures.

The Chartists’ Shops to Punish Opposing Shopkeepers

April 25, 2016

I spent this weekend reading up on the Chartists. This was the early 19th century movement, which roughly ran for the decade between 1837 and 1848, which campaigned for the vote for every working man. There were also female Chartist organisations, and some Chartists were so radical as to wish to extend the franchise to women. It had a very mixed membership ideologically. Some were Socialists, others supporters of Free Trade. Some wanted the repeal of the Corn Law, while some were for keeping them. Many were against the New Poor Law and the Workhouses, but some, like Francis Place, supported it. There were Christian Chartists and atheist Chartists. Some, like Richard Oastler, were Tories, others Liberal. It has been regarded as a kind of early Labour party. This view has since been challenged, but certainly the Labour party politicians, who won the 1945 General Election saw themselves very much as part of the same tradition of working class political radicalism, and the contemporary heirs of the Chartists, as well as Tom Paine, the author of the Rights of Man.

Some Chartists believed, like Marx, that ‘the emancipation of the working class should be the task of the working class’, and wished to avoid contaminating the movement with contacts with the middle classes, who they felt would betray them. Nevertheless, the movement did have many middle class supporters, including Anglican priests, Nonconformist ministers, factory masters, and so on. One of the tactics the Chartists used, which I found particularly interesting, was that they opened shops to compete with and punish those shopkeepers that opposed the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi.

The British working and lower middle classes are again becoming disenfranchised in the 21st century. And some of this is through the tactics used by the rich supermarkets to drive the small shopkeeper out of business, screw their suppliers, and drive down wages for employees. Quite apart from the various businesses that exploit unpaid workers under the ‘workfare’ system.

I think it would be superb if someone could come up with a similar system of shops to compete and punish these businesses, but I’m not sure how it could be done at a time of depression, when 4.7 million of us are in ‘food poverty’, and the trade unions are fighting for survival. The anarchists have tried similarly tactics, and these generally have failed. But perhaps there is a way. If there is, then it’s one I’d like to see pursued.

Solving Unemployment through Trade Union-Run Cooperatives

April 2, 2016

The German-born anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker, devotes a passage in his Anarcho-Syndicalism (London: Pluto Press 1989) to Robert Owen’s proposal in the early 1830s to set up a Grand Consolidated Trade Union which would include all the working people in every trade, its plans for supporting unemployed workers, and finally its gradual decline in the 1840s. See pages 57-66. The Grand National Consolidated Trade Union was intended to supersede the existing situation where the workers were divided into separate trade unions according to their different trades and industries. At the same time, the new, umbrella union would be organised into different divisions for the workers in specific branches of industry. The ultimate aim was for the workers themselves to take over production, which they would then market themselves through special shops, according to the cost of manufacturing the article. Instead of conventional currency, special labour notes, representing labour value, would be exchanged for these products. To support unemployed workers, the trade unions would also invest in land, which would be worked by unemployed workers, and co-operatives, which would also provide the unemployed with work, producing needed goods that would be purchased by the other members of the Union.

Rocker quotes the following passage from the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union’s statement of its aims.

As land is the source of the first necessaries of life, and as, without the possession of it, the producing classes were ever remain in a greater or less degree subservient to the money capitalists, and subsequent upon the fluctuations of trade and commerce, this committee advises that a great effort should now be made by the unions to secure such portions of it on lease as their funds will permit, in order that in all turn-outs the men may be employed in rearing the greater part, if not the whole, of their subsistence under the direction of practical agricultural superintendents, which arrangements would not have the effect of lowering the price of labour in any trade, but on the contrary would rather tend to in increase it by drawing off the at present superfluous supply to the manufacturers.

The committee would, nevertheless, earnestly recommend in all cases of strikes and turn-outs, where it is practicable, that the men be employed in the making or producing of all such commodities as would be in demand among their brother unionists; and that to effect this, each lodge should be provided with a workroom or shop in which those commodities may be manufactured on account of such lodge, which shall make proper arrangements for the supply of the necessary materials.

That in all cases where it is practicable, each district or branch should establish one or more depots of provisions and articles in general domestic use: by which means the working man may be supplied with the best commodities at little above wholesale prices. (Pp.61-2)

Rocker notes how this was greeted by the radical paper, The Poor Man’s Guardian

But far different from the paltry objects of all former combinations is that now aimed at by the congress of delegates. Their reports show that an entire change in society-a change amounting to a complete subversion of the existing order of the world-is contemplated by the working classes. They aspire to be at the top instead of the bottom of society-or rather that there should be no bottom or top at all. (p. 59).

Rocker then describes the mass agitation for a general strike to bring about a ten-hour working day, the denunciations and persecution of the union, trade unionists in general, and political agitators, and how the G.N.C. finally petered out. Many of its members left to join the Chartists, while the events on the Continent in the 1840s also worked against working class radicalism.

The G.N.C.’s supporters made it very clear in their debates with other radicals, who wanted the political reform of the franchise and the House of Commons, that after the G.N.C. took power parliament would be made totally redundant.

Rocker writes

If, for example, one reads The Pioneer, the organ of the G.N.C. managed by James Morrison, one frequently encounters arguments that sound thoroughly modern. This is revealed especially in the discussions with the political reformers, who had inscribed on their banner the democratic reconstruction of the House of Commons. They were told in reply that the workers had no interest whatever in efforts of that sort, since an economic transformation of society in the Socialist sense would render the House of Commons superfluous. Its place would be taken by the labour boards and the industrial federations, which would concern themselves merely with problems of production and consumption in the interest of the people. These organisations were destined to take over the functions of the present entrepreneurs; with common ownership of all social wealth there would no longer be any need for political institutions. The wealth of the nation would no longer be determined by the quantity of goods produced, but by the personal advantage that every individual derived from them. The House of Commons would in the future be merely a House of Trades. (pp. 62-3).

It’s a hopelessly utopian dream. Unfortunately the need for legislation and a democratic parliament isn’t removed by the almost complete socialisation of the land and industry, as the former USSR shows. The various shops set up to sell goods according to the labour theory of value collapsed because they didn’t take into account demand for the goods. Nevertheless, the system has been revived on a small scale by communities running various local currency schemes, in which vouchers are exchanged for so many hours of work, and these have had some success. As these schemes are locally based, they have stimulated the revival of local, small businesses.

As for the idea of the Union purchasing land, that’s very much part of the ‘back to the land’ movement of the early 19th century. It’s similar to Bronterre O’Brien’s demand at the Manchester Guardian of ’40 acres and a mule’. As many of the new urban workers either themselves had been, or were the children of migrants to the towns from the country, the idea of going back to the land to gain a livelihood, away from the horrors of urban life, was obviously attractive.

There are also links to the ideas of the French Utopian Socialist, Louis Blanc, during the Revolutions of 1848 for ‘National Workshops’. These would be stare run workshops for the unemployed, which would be managed as co-operatives. Any profits made would be put back into buying up other factories and workshops, until gradually the whole of French industry would be nationalised. Although these workshops were set up, they were deliberately run down and mismanaged so that the scheme eventually collapsed. It was given to a minister or civil servant who hated the idea, and the workers employed in them were given pointless tasks, such as digging ditches, only to fill them in again.

Despite this, I do like these ideas. And I do wonder now long workfare would last, if a trade union set up a genuine workers’ co-operative on the Owenite model, and then applied to join the government’s wretched scheme as a ‘workfare provider’. All workers receiving some form of reward for their labour beyond their jobseekers allowance, with the workshop aiming to buy out other factories, or at least, some of the other ‘workfare providers’.

Somehow, I can imagine that going down at all well with the Tories. They’d be utterly aghast, and try to find all kinds of reasons not to take it on. I sort of wish someone would try, if only to see the ‘welfare to work’ industry turned on its head to support unemployed workers, not the overpaid heads of outsourcing companies and big businesses like Sainsbury’s, Tescos, or various charities like the Salvation Army, who are just seeking to exploit an easy supply of cheap labour.