Archive for the ‘Factories’ Category

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

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Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 2

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 1.

The Role of the Trade Unions

It is usually assumed that in a capitalist economy the Trade Union movement fulfills a different and essentially more democratic role than the unions in a country such as Yugoslavia. It is said that by remaining independent of management and government the unions provide the essential element in any democracy, that of opposition. This has always been one of the stumbling blocks which any advocate of workers’ control must encounter. An understanding of the role of our own trade union movement is a necessary first step towards working out a programme for democratising industry which does not fall foul of this traditional objection. This understanding may be furthered by an appreciation of the position of trade unions in other countries where social systems are different. In Britain it may well be that the trade unions become more and more committed to the status quo in industry, so their opposition function is weakened. The respect for national collective agreements, the support of the leadership for the current productivity drive, the discouragement of unofficial strike action, the rejection of co-ordinated industrial action to break the pay pause, and finally the decision to join the NEDC suggest that the unions are moving towards the position of partners in a managerial society.

The simple distinction between free trade unionism in a capitalist society, and trade unions in a communist state which become organs for the implementation of state policy, becomes increasingly blurred. We should think instead of a spectrum of relative degrees of independence from the state, ranging from the Russian trade unions at one extreme, through Yugoslav, Scandinavian and Dutch, to the British and American movements at the other, with perhaps the Communist Unions of France and Italy as the least committed to the state. The recognition of this trend does not imply advocacy of a general strike mentality over the pay pause, for example, but we need a more honest recognition of what is taking place. We should admit first that it is inevitable that the trade unions will move in the direction of close co-operation with government, and towards a ‘national interest’ point of view. As this trend continues, the worker is faced with the growing prospect of an alliance between government, employers and unions. In this situation union leaders no longer express the independent sectional and industrial aspirations of their members. Partly because of this, the role of the voluntary rank and file element in trade union government appears to be diminishing and its functions are being superseded by paid officials. The unions are becoming agencies run for their members and not by them.

With the weakening of the elements of opposition and participation there is a need to seek alternative means by which employees can express themselves in the government of industry. This need arises not only from a consideration of industrial democracy, but also of industrial efficiency. Appeals for increased industrial production, such as British Productivity Year, evoke slight response because they are based on an assumption of team spirit and equal partnership which is excluded by the very nature of social relationships in a private enterprise economy. Yugoslav experience strongly suggests that increased productivity is one of the results of their form of industrial democracy. However if democratisation in industry is advocated solely on grounds of higher productivity, it will be received with suspicion. The question would not be how much power and control can we give to democratic forms of management, but rather how small a concession will be necessary in the interests of productivity. Such a path would reproduce the history of progressive disillusion which has befallen Joint Consultation. Thus the idealist exponent of workers’ control may claim to solve must fully the economic problem of incentive.

In Britain, advocates of workers’ control have traditionally thought in terms of Trade Union management of industry. Efforts in this direction have always ended in a blind alley, since the objection that this involves a dual loyalty for the union is a valid one. As we have seen, the Yugoslav system does not involve Trade Unions in the direct management of the Enterprise. It suggests not only a new role for the Unions, but also the practical constitutional forms for the management of the firm by its employees.

The role of the unions in such a system is that of a mass social institution representing the wider national interests of the workers and tackling problems such as the overall levels of incomes and income structure, labour productivity etc. As we have suggested, there is already a tendency for British unions to assume such a role, and the doubts which we have raised about the desirability of this trend would be dispelled if the unions were operating within the framework of an industrial democracy. If workers had legally guaranteed rights of management then the need for the union to be an instrument of opposition is weakened. However, unions could still continue to protect the interests of their members by taking up grievances on behalf of groups and individuals who are in dispute with the elected management bodies. They should certainly seek to influence the decisions and activities of management bodies, but should not be tied to them in an institutional sense.

Workers Democracy in Britain

In considering the relevance of the Yugoslav model to British conditions, two objections may arise. The First concerns the compatibility of Industrial democracy and the private ownership of industry. Does it not challenge the very origins of power which are possessed by the managers of private enterprise firms? Is it not desirable for the Labour movement to give much closer attention to the possibility of introducing experimental forms of workers’ control within existing nationalised industry. This would demonstrate the practicability of the method and point a way to the fully democratic society at which the socialist movement aims.

The second objection is more difficult to counter. Yugoslavia is a one party state. is it likely that in a multi-party state, industrial democracy could be introduced with any guarantee of its permanence? Would not the anti-socialist forces exert such pressure that the system was undermined whilst it was being introduced, and abolished at the first opportunity presented by the return of a Conservative government? It is probably true in Yugoslavia that the permission of opposition views and organisations could generate counter-revolutionary forces which would seriously retard the evolution of the system. The government and the Party clearly fear this. Thus after flirting with Djilas’ heresies, which included the advocacy of a second – though socialist – party, the leadership decided against taking the risk. This is the point at which Yugoslav experience ceases to be helpful to us.

We should not therefore assume that the introduction of industrial democracy in the British context is impracticable. There are signs that unease concerning status at work has penetrated through to the political arena. Liberal party references to ‘syndicalism’ and the long-awaited Conservative Industrial Charter are manifestations of this. These schemes relate to the improvement of the position of workers within the present hierarchical framework, and do not tackle the root of the problem. We would expect that the early demonstration of the viability of a system of democratic control within the nationalised industries would generate enthusiasm for the idea and lead to demands for its extension. The British political system certainly restricts the speed of change, but a change which has become truly popular is difficult to reverse (e.g. The National Health Service). We believe that the Labour Party could, by taking the first steps towards democracy within nationalised industry, transform what has been an electoral embarrassment and a millstone into its biggest asset.

See Part 3 for my own conclusions.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control In Yugoslavia: Part 3 – My Conclusion

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 2.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post I described the contents of the above Fabian pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham, published in 1963.

The authors attempted to show how, despite a very lukewarm attitude to the idea at the time, workers’ control could be a viable possibility for British industry. The authors’ noted that the very limited gesture towards worker participation in the nationalised industries had not gained the enthusiasm of the workforce, and in the previous decade the Tories had had some success in attacking the nationalised industries and nationalisation itself.

They argued that there was a tradition within the British Labour movement for workers’ control in the shape of the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionism. The Fabians, who had largely advocated central planning at the expense of industrial democracy, had nevertheless put forward their own ideas for it. Annie Besant, the Theosophist and feminist, had argued that the workers in an industry should elect a council, which would appoint the management and foreman. This is quite close to the Yugoslav model, in which enterprises were governed through a series of factory boards elected by the workers, which also exercised a degree of control over the director and management staff.

The pamphlet was clearly written at a time when the unions were assuming a role of partnership in the nationalised industries, and had agreed to pay pauses. These were a temporary break in the round of annual pay rises negotiated by the government and management as a means of curbing inflation. This actually runs against Tory rhetoric that Britain was exceptionally beset by strikes – which has been challenged and rebutted before by British historians of the working class – and the unions were irresponsible.

The role of the factory or enterprise council in taking management decisions, rather than the trade unions in Yugoslav worker’s control also means that the trade unions could still preserve their independence and oppositional role, working to defend the rights of the workforce as a whole and present the grievances of individual workers.

The two authors acknowledge that there are problems of scale involved, in that the Yugoslav system was obviously developed to suit conditions in that nation, where there was a multiplicity of small enterprises, rather than the much larger industrial concerns of the more developed British economy. But even there they suggest that these problems may not be insuperable. Management now consists of selecting for one out of a range of options, that have already been suggested by technical staff and planners, and the experience of the co-operative movement has shown that firms can be run by elected boards. Much of the idea that management can only be effectively performed by autocratic directors or management boards may actually be just a myth that has developed to justify the concentration of power in their hands, rather than allow it to be also held by the workers.

They also note that the Yugoslav model also shows that the participation of workers in industrial management can lead to greater productivity. Indeed, the South Korean economist and lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, in his books has shown that those industries which are wholly or partly owned by the state, or where the workers participate in management, are more stable and long-lasting than those that are run purely for the benefit of the shareholders. This is because the state and the workforce have a vested commitment to them, which shareholders don’t have. They will abandon one firm to invest in another, which offers larger dividends. And this has meant that some firms have gone bust selling off valuable assets and downsizing simply to keep the shares and, correspondingly, the managers’ salaries, artificially high.

They also present a good argument for showing that if workers’ control was implemented, the other parties would also have to take it up and preserve it. At the time they were writing, the Liberals were talking about ‘syndicalism’ while the Tories promised an Industrial Charter. This never materialised, just as Theresa May’s promise to put workers on the boards of industry was no more than hot air.

But some indication of how popular genuine worker participation in management might be is also shown, paradoxically, by Thatcher’s privatisations in the 1980s. Thatcher presented herself falsely as some kind of heroine of the working class, despite the fact that she was very solidly middle, and personally had nothing but contempt for the working class and working class organisations. Some of that image came from her talking about her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. Another aspect was that in her privatisation of the utilities, she tried to persuade people that at last they too could be shareholders in industry. This was not only to the general public, but also to workers in those industries, who were offered shares in the newly privatised companies.

This experiment in popular capitalism, just like the rest of Thatcherism, is a total colossal failure. Newspaper reports have shown that the shares have largely passed out of the hands of working class shareholders, and are now back in the hands of the middle classes. As you could almost predict.

But the process does show how what popularity it initially had depended on Thatcher stealing some of the ideological guise for privatisation from Socialism. She had to make it seem that they would have a vested interest in their industries, albeit through holding shares rather than direct participation in management. She had no wish to empower the workers, as is amply shown by her determination to break the unions and destroy employees’ rights in the workplace. But her programme of popular capitalism depended on making it appear they would gain some position of power as individual shareholders.

The performance of the utilities following privatisation has shown that they are not better off under private management, regardless of the bilge spewed by the Tories and the Blairites in the Labour party. Under private management, these vital industries have been starved of investment, while the managers’ salaries and share price have been kept high again through cuts and increased prices. It is high time they were renationalised. And the nation knows this, hence the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

And it’s possible that, if it was done properly, the incorporation of a system of worker participation in the management of these industries could create a real popular enthusiasm for them that would prevent further privatisation in the future, or make it more difficult. Who knows, if it had been done properly in the past, perhaps we would now have a proper functioning steel and coal industry, as well as the other vital services like rail, electricity, gas and water.

Code Pink Urges US Institutions to Boycott Arms Industry

October 25, 2017

This is another important piece by RT America on attempts by American peace activists to stop the war machine that is currently killing and making homeless millions of innocents in the Middle East, as well as the courageous American and allied squaddies sent to fight in it, and which has also resulted in massive cuts to public programmes in order to fund it.

The left-wing peace group, Code Pink, has launched a conference to encourage universities and financial institutions to boycott and divest from the arms industry. The group’s leader, Medea Benjamin, states that the reason these wars have dragged on so long is because they are incredibly profitable to the arms manufacturers. Every time Trump goes to Saudi Arabia, for example, to announce a multi-million dollar sale of armaments, the share price of companies like Lockheed Martin goes up. So, she says, they are simply following the money and trying to get institutions to stop funding and supporting these ‘merchants of misery’.

Vijay Prashad, the director of International Studies at Trinity College, states that even though millions are being killed in these wars, there is no accountability, no outrage, no pity for the victims and no sense that anybody should be dragged before an international tribunal. Instead, the victims of these wars themselves are blamed, as is happening now in Syria, while the reality is that these wars are destroying country after country.

The Black American activist, Ajamu Baraka, who was the Green Party’s presidential nominee, also makes the point that in order to fund this war machine, the American state is cutting vital welfare services and programmes. These include those for the homeless, support for education, such aid for the poor to go to college, environmental protection policies will be cut, energy assistance for the poor and elderly will also be cut, all in order to find the money to provide the £696 billion granted to the US military. It’s money that has been supplied at the expense of poor people’s basic needs.

The clip ends with Medea Benjamin stating that the conference is designed to get people together to say ‘enough is enough’ and that institutions no longer want to make profits from the military and their wars.

All of this is correct. People in America, as well as those over here, are seeing welfare budgets slashed partly to provide funding for the continued wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. These are not being fought for democracy, or the defence of the West and its allies against evil dictators. They are being fought to provide profits for American arms contractors, who provide millions of dollars in funding for American politicos. Iraq wasn’t invaded because it had weapons of mass destruction. That was a lie. It was invaded because the Saudi-US oil industry wanted the Iraqi oil reserves and its industry. American multinationals also coveted Iraqi state enterprises, and Israel hated the aid Saddam Hussein was giving to the Palestinians.

And the same is true of Syria. The neocons want to destroy it, because its an ally of Iran and Russia and a potential threat to Israel. They and a group of Arab states, including Qatar and Jordan, also want to oust Assad because he’s blocking the construction of a massive gas pipeline, which will stretch from Qatar to Turkey. In fact, these nations even told the Americans they’d pay for the war if America attacked Syria.

And the neocons have already destroyed Libya, they’d like to destroy Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Hence Trump’s step in decertifying the Iranian nuclear deal with Obama.

General Smedley Butler described all this back in the 1930s in his book, War Is A Racket, detailing the way American big business had profited from the First World War. As for the poor suffering because of the need to cut services to fund the military, I think it was president Truman, who described it has taking food from the mouths of the poor, and denying the construction of schools and hospitals.

I’ve already said in my last article about the revelation that the CIA was staging fake academic conferences as part of its campaign against the Iranian nuclear programme, that Lobster had published an article expressing similar concerns about the way some of Britain’s universities were also supporting the British war machine. Millions are being plunged into poverty and death, including American and British squaddies, all for the profits of the merchants of death and big business like Haliburton. It’s time for this obscenity to end, and universities and investment houses to pull out of supporting the war machine.

TYT Cover Panel on the End of Neoliberalism at Labour Party Conference

October 22, 2017

This is another video produced by the progressive American news service, The Young Turks, of the Labour conference at Brighton the week before last. The panel was entitled ‘Welcome to the End of the Neoliberalism’. Held in a dingy nightclub, the female host jokes about how her audience can say exactly where they were when neoliberalism ended, and that, as with nearly all revolutions, the women were first and the men came late.

With her on the panel were Paul Mason, a former Channel 4 journo, playwright, documentary film maker, and the author of the book ‘Postcapitalism’; Jo Littler, an academic, who specialises in cultures of consumption, and the author of a book on meritocracy, pointing out that this is precisely what it isn’t, as meritocracy is a system that reinforces minority, elite rule; Valary Alzaga, a labour organiser working with the people at neoliberalism’s sharp end in precarity; and Clive Lewis, the MP for Norwich.

Paul Mason begins the discussion by trying to describe what neoliberalism is in reality, rather than neoliberalism as a collection of ideas. In doing so he states that he has annoyed the Adam Smith Institute. And he includes not only the perfect, ideal capitalist states of the West, but also mercantilist states like China, as they are now part of the same global system. He states that you could go back to the German ordoliberals to describe it, and to people like Von Hayek and the Chicago School. But he begins with Peugeot’s definition of its aims at a meeting in Paris in 1938. This described precisely what neoliberalism is not: it is not traditional laissez-faire economics. The early neoliberals realised that if markets and market forces were left on their own, the result would be monopolies that would be nationalised by the state, according to Marxist doctrine and praxis. So they sought to enforce competition at every level. This means not only privatisation, and the introduction of legislation to force companies to compete, but also the creation of competition as a mindset to keep working people isolated and competing against each other.

The result can be seen in the favelas – the deprived slums – of Latin America, where you have poor people living in former factories that have closed down. Then the housing association is dissolved, and the mob moves in, as only through organised crime is there safety. And Mason states very clearly that it isn’t only in Latin America that this process has occurred. It’s also happened in many of the towns in the north of England, where industry has been gutted and forced overseas, and the result has been a massive upsurge in crime.

He goes on to state that at first neoliberalism was devised so the rich West could exploit Latin America. But after the Fall of Communism opened up the 20 per cent of the world market that was the former eastern bloc, it became a global system. However, neoliberalism is now collapsing. It produces a series of crises, and so rightwing politicians like Trump, rather than destroying it, are producing nationalist versions of neoliberalism. That is, they are turning away from it as a system of international trade, but still enforcing it in their own countries as a system of private ownership that excludes and exploits the poor.

Jo Littler says much the same as Mason in a much briefer speech. She refers to it as ‘disembowelling’ the public, meaning the enforced privatisation of public services. She also describes how two of the sources for neoliberalism were the German Ordoliberals, who turned away from the state-managed economy of the Nazis, and von Hayek and the Chicago school. She also mentions how it was first proposed by the Montpelerin meeting in Paris. And she also makes the point that it took a long time for them to have their ideas accepted, as until the Chicago School, Pinochet and Thatcher they were isolated cranks and weirdoes.

Valary Alzaga explains that she is a care worker, who are some of the most poorly paid workers with the most precarious jobs. She describes how, under neoliberal capitalism, care homes have been privatised, bought up by hedge funds and venture capitalists, who have then gone on to sell off whatever was profit-making. As for care workers, neoliberalism means that if they try to form a union, they are immediately sacked. Under socialism and Keynsianism there was a social pact, by which employers and the state recognised the rights of workers to form trade unions and bargain for better pay and conditions. This no longer exists.

Clive Lewis, who to my mind looks like a younger version of Noel Clarke, the actor, who played Rose Tyler’s boyfriend in Dr. Who, is an economics graduate. He describes how, when he was studying it, he and the other students were filled with its doctrines, but no-one ever mentioned the word. He only woke up to what it was and really meant when he happened to go on a summer course about it. He describes this in terms of a religious revelation. He says it was as if he’d been deprogrammed. When he returned, his friends complained that it was as if he’d joined a cult, because all he talked about was neoliberalism, neoliberalism and neoliberalism.

He states that the goal of von Hayek wasn’t to set up an independent party, as he was asked by one of his followers. He wanted instead to permeate the academic institutions, like the universities and take over the whole system. And so this resulted in Blair and Brown accepting it as absolutely true, and introducing it into the Labour party. He refers to the story, which he thinks was apocryphal, about Thatcher being asked what her greatest achievement was. Instead of pointing to one of her wretched privatisations, she said it was Tony Blair and New Labour. Lewis states that their adoption of neoliberalism is unforgivable with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight but you have to understand the state of British politics at the time.

This is a fascinating analysis of the rise and destructive effects of neoliberalism. Robin Ramsay, the editor of ‘Lobster’, also studied economics in the late ’60s – early ’70s, and he states that Thatcher’s beloved Monetarism was considered so much rubbish that his lecturers didn’t even bother arguing against it. And before Thatcherism turned to mass privatisation and the idolatrous adulation of the free market after 1981-2, neoliberalism was considered very much an extreme doctrine held only by cranks. Which is what it should return to being.

As for annoying the Adam Smith Institute, they have been pushing for the complete privatisation of all state assets, including the NHS since the 1970s, so annoying them is, in my view, a good and holy occupation. And in amongst their dissection of neoliberalism they also have a gibe at Jacob Rees-Mogg, which is also always a good thing.

East European Phrase to Describe Grim Reality of Capitalism

October 8, 2017

One of the factors, which boosted the vote of the odious, neo-Nazi party, the Alternative fuer Deutschland, and the other Fascist parties now gaining votes and power in eastern Europe has been the complete disillusionment of many of their citizens with the reality of life under capitalism, according to a piece I commented on in Counterpunch a week ago. When they overthrew Communism and Soviet domination a quarter of a century ago, they looked forward to a future of western-style democracy, and a prosperous economy.

That future has not materialized. Factories have closed, and unemployment in the east of Germany remains much higher than in the west. And the same is true of much of the former eastern bloc, as the business combines that provided work, but no or not enough profit under the new, capitalist, free market economics have closed. A survey eight years ago in 2009 found that 51 per cent of people in the former East Germany wanted Communism to come back. There, and in other former Communist bloc countries, a common sentiment is ‘Things were better then. We had jobs’.

The veteran opponent of American imperialism, William Blum, comments on the continuing hostility to Communism in the American media, and their failure to realise or concede that the Communist system actually provided some benefits to its peoples, benefits which have vanished under capitalism. He states that this has resulted in a saying going the rounds in eastern Europe which succinctly describes this disillusionment.

Everything the Communists told us about Communism was lies. Everything they told us about capitalism was true.

To read the whole article, and much more in the latest issue of his Anti-Empire Report, go to: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/151

Historians and political scientists, particularly German, have described Nazism as ‘nihilistic’. This underlines the fact that it is better described by what it rejected. It attacked capitalism, liberalism, democracy, Socialism, Communism, part – though not all – of the Enlightenment – and notions of universal brotherhood and equality. Instead there was simply an aggressive, genocidal racism, xenophobia and militarism.

It strongly seems to me that the fall of Communism, and the failure of capitalism, has resulted in the resurgence of Fascism because it has created the same bleak, nihilistic mindset. When capitalism and Communism don’t work, the result is that some people will look for solutions to their political problems in the glories of an imagined past, and old racial hatreds – against Jews, Roma, and now Blacks and Muslims, will return.

The way to break this is to abandon neoliberal economics – the economics that are keeping people of all every nation around the world disempowered, impoverished and fearful in favour of boosting the profits of greedy multinationals, and bring back some form of socialism. A real socialism, that actually works for people, rather than the big corporations and the exploitative banking system at the heart of the EU.

From RT: McDonnell States We Will Not Sell Arms to States Abusing Human Rights

September 29, 2017

In this short clip from RT, presenter Afshin Rattansi asks John McDonnell about the party’s policy regarding arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Both he (McDonnell) and Jeremy Corbyn have both said that arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be suspended because of their use against civilians in the war in Yemen. Rattansi then asks him if he doesn’t find it odd walking past posters for BAE Systems. McDonnell replies that their stance is that Britain has an arms trade, but we must stop selling arms to human rights abusers, like Saudi Arabia. And this has to stop immediately, because people are dying.

I find it grossly immoral that the Labour party has accepted sponsorship from BAE, which has for decades sold arms to every dictator and butcher on the planet, as well as desperately poor states, who don’t need them, can’t maintain them, and whose purchase diverts money that could be better used on welfare or development programmes for their people. They are also responsible for making weapons that are illegal under international law, such as electric shields and batons.

Unfortunately, big business has wormed its way into the sponsorship of the Labour party, and Tony Blair was as fully supportive of the merchants of death as the Tories were. McDonnell’s statement that he and Corbyn won’t sell arms to the Saudis and the other repressive regimes around the globe sound like a restatement of the late Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’, which became a dead letter almost as soon as Labour got into power.

Cook was, in many people’s eyes, the man who should have been head of the Labour party instead of Blair. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature nearly two decades or so ago, Giles Brandreth said that when he was a minister in Major’s cabinet, Cook was the man they were most afraid would lead Labour because of his ‘forensic intelligence’. He was genuinely further left, and Private Eye opined that Blair included him in the cabinet because ‘it was better to have him in the tent p*ssing out, than outside p*ssing in.’

The Tories, Lib Dems, the Beeb, the rest of the media, and big business are terrified of Corbyn and McDonnell. This strongly suggests to me that they are afraid that Corbyn, unlike Blair, means what he says. And McDonnell is right: the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia needs to be stopped now. The war hasn’t just killed the people hit by the bullets and bombs. It’s also created a famine that may kill 7 million people.

The Saudis have butchered innocent civilians in factories, mosques and schools, simply because they’re Shi’a. They were also responsible for the 9/11 attack that plunged us into the War on Terror and which was falsely blamed on Iraq. They have also funded and supplied other aid to ISIS in its trail of murder and chaos across the Middle East. I’m aware that the Saudis have turned against ISIS after they released a video trying to encourage the people there to rise up against their rulers. Even so, my guess is that support for the jihadis is nevertheless very strong. Any guns and other ‘wonderful kit’ – in the words of David Cameron – we sell to the Saudis therefore has a strong chance of being passed on to the fanatics to be used against our troops.

There are thus very strong humanitarian and selfish reasons for not selling any further weapons to the Saudis.

South African Politico Andrew Feinstein on the Evils of the Arms Trade

September 19, 2017

Hat tip to Michelle, for sending me this video on the immense harm and global corruption due to the arms trade.

In this video, the South African politician Andrew Feinstein talks in detail about the arms trade. This creates death and chaos, not just through the weapons themselves, but through the web of corruption and kickbacks western governments, and here he talks specifically about the British government, use to sell them to countries that don’t need them and can’t afford them.

Like South Africa. BAe Systems and the British government were involved in a very corrupt deal to sell arms to his country. This diverted money, that should have been spent feeding the starving masses. Instead it went into the pockets of the merchants of death, and tens of thousands of children died of starvation as a result.

Another instance he cites is the Al-Yamamah arms deal, in which Britain sold arms to Saudi Arabia, in return for which one of the Saudi princes, Prince Bandar, received a kickback of a cool $1 billion. The agency that investigates corrupt business dealings were about to bring a prosecution, when Tony Blair’s government stepped in and stopped it. It was only when some of that money ended up in the accounts of two of the 9/11 hijackers that the authorities thought fit to investigate it.

http://realmedia.press/arms-trade-make-killing-andrew-feinstein/

None of this should be surprising to Private Eye readers. The magazine has cover the British arms industry for decades and the way it flouts international law. Under Maggie Thatcher, we were supplying arms to Saddam Hussein despite a ban on weapons sales imposed by the Americans. These were weapons that were turned on our squaddies when we invaded in Gulf War I. The Eye has also documented ad nauseam the countless times Britain has sold its lethal products to extremely repressive governments, like those of Indonesia and the Gulf states.

And BAe systems also manufactures weapons that are illegal under human rights legislation. Way back in the 1990s the Eye reported how the company was making and selling, quite illegally, electric shields and batons.

The massive arms fair held in London last week is now over, but the issues surrounding it haven’t gone away. We are still manufacturing and exporting these weapons to brutal, oppressive regimes with the complete support of the government. Remember how David Cameron went up to a weapons manufacturing plant in the North the other year to enthuse about the ‘wonderful kit’ they were making? Britain’s part in the global arms trade is small – much smaller than the American’s, whose expenditure on weapons vastly outstrips that of the other leading countries combined. But the trade, and the death and chaos it causes, still needs to be stopped. Hopefully this won’t just help to stop some of the supply of lethal weapons to brutal and oppressive regimes, it will also help stop the poverty and corruption this immoral trade generates.

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.