Posts Tagged ‘Cartels’

Reichwing Watch: Tom Hartmann Quotes Vice-President Wallace on Fascism in America

November 18, 2016

On Wednesday I put up a documentary by Reichwing Watch, which carefully showed the corporatist powers behind the rise of modern Libertarianism, and how it represents the interests of big business instead of ordinary people despite its claims to the contrary. The documentary quoted Henry Wallace, F.D.R.’s vice-president in 1944, who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the threat of Fascism in America, and how this would arise through the same powerful corporate interests, who would claim to be super-patriots, but would attempt to use their political and economic power to enslave ordinary Americans.

In this clip from Thom Hartmann’s internet show, Hartmann also discusses how Fascism is based on the power of big corporations, and further quotes Wallace’s New York Times article. Hartmann begins by defining Fascism as the merger of corporate and government interests, with a bit of nationalism and racism to keep the masses distracted by hating a terrible ‘other’. He notes that Mussolini dissolved the Italian parliament in favour of a chamber of Fasci and corporations, and that Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, stated that Fascism should more properly be described as corporatism.

He then goes to quote Henry Wallace’s article in the New York Times. Wallace wrote

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the US will come after the War in the US itself. Another Fascist danger is represented by those, who paying lip service to national service and the common welfare, in their insatiable greet for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws which protect the public from monopolistic extortion.

Hartmann goes on to explain that Wallace nevertheless believed that the American system was strong enough to avoid Fascism. At that time, it was rare for a C.E.O. to enter politics, and politicians knew that they had to represent ‘we, the people’. And so Wallace continues

Happily, it can be said that Fascism has not captured a place in mainstream America. It can be found in Wall Street, Main Street and Tobacco Road, and traces of it can be seen along the Potomac, but if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and with malice towards none and charity for all, and continue building political, economic and social democracy, we shall prevail.

American Fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the poisoners of public information and those who stand for the KKK-type of demagoguery.

Hartmann makes the point that this has happened today through the alliance of right-wing news channels, the corporatists, and the White House. Wallace goes on

They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty, they claim to support free enterprise, but the represent monopolies and vested interests. Their final objective, to which all their deceit is directed, it to capture political power so that using the power of the state and the market simultaneously they can keep the common man in eternal subjection.

The American Fascists are most easily recognised by their perversion of truth and Fact. Their propaganda cultivates every fissure in the common front, and they consistently criticise democracy.

Hartmann here discusses how this accurately describes the purveyors of hate in the corporatist media, like Fox News, and how they are composed of the Islamophobes, the anti-gay religious leaders, and the corporatists determined to put worker against worker, trade unionists against the non-unionised employees, men against women, in a strategy of divide and conquer. He goes on to say that we should all be concerned about the next few years, and states that it is the most high stakes struggle since the foundation of the Republic, though not the biggest – that was the Civil War. But, Harmann asks rhetorically, can anyone remember a time when Americans were so polarised? He concludes that the struggle against Fascism begins today – and you need to get involved. Movement politics are what is needed. It simply isn’t enough just to vote.

There are a couple of things wrong with Hartmann’s analysis of Fascism. The Fascist ‘corporations’ he mentions weren’t commercial companies, but industrial associations combining both the trade unions and the employers’ organisations. Furthermore, nationalism and racism was central to Fascism, not something merely added to their foul intellectual stew in order to keep the masses distracted. Hitler and his fellow mass murderers genuinely hated the Jews, and ant-Semitism and the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority was central to Nazi ideology from the very beginning. Similarly, Italian Fascism was originally a movement of ultra-patriots intensely dissatisfied with Italy’s failure to get what they believed was its rightful territorial gains after the First World War. Mussolini sincerely wanted the Italians to be a militaristic people and to create a new, Roman Empire.

But he’s write about the importance of corporate power. Both Mussolini and then Hitler got into power because they posed as the defenders of capitalism and business against the threat of organised labour, socialism, and the trade unions. Mussolini’s Fascist absorbed the Italian Nationalists, who were right-wing businessmen. Just as the Fascists attacked the trade unions in urban areas, in the countryside they represented the big landowners, and went around trying to smash the peasant organisations, cooperatives and collectives.

Wallace’s description of the threat of a home-grown Fascism in America really does describe the coalition of power that has brought Trump to the White House: the powerful, right-wing news organisations like Fox, Breitbart and scores of local and national talk radio stations. And Trump is a corporatist, representing elite big business. But this also applies to his predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, right back to Reagan. This includes the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, and Barack Obama, as well as the Bush family.

And it also applies over here, to Maggie Thatcher, John Major, and then Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour, to David Cameron and now Theresa May. It was Maggie Thatcher, who began the process of permitting the concentration of the British media in a few, very limited hands, including that of Murdoch. And the Tories have always maintained that they are the party of business as a rhetorical defence, whenever the purging of corporate influence from parliament is mentioned. They argue that since Labour represents the trade unions, the Tories are right to represent business. They do not, by this admission, represent ‘hard-working people’, except in the sense that they are keen to stress how hard the millionaires they represent work. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and the majority hold multiple directorships. And New Labour was, in Mandelson’s words, ‘intensely laid back about getting rich’, expanded Peter Lilley’s vile PFI initiative, and promoted business to parliament and parliamentary committees, initiatives and quangos.

Trump’s a Fascist, but the rot goes deep, all the way back to the foundations of the neoliberal world order in Reagan and Thatcher, who both supported real Fascists in the death squads of south American dictators like Samosa and Pinochet.

We need to fight back. And we need to do more than that – we need to purge parliament of the very corporate interests that have wormed their way into power, in order to make our countries true democracies again, and not merely elective oligarchies providing a veneer of popular approval for corrupt, corporate rule.

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Labour’s Ernest Bevin and European Union

June 6, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces pointing out that the idea of a united Europe, or a European parliament, ultimately goes back to the Quaker William Penn in the 17th and 18th century philosophers and idealists, such as Immanuel Kant. In his essay, On Perpetual Peace, Kant advocated the creation of a federal European state as a way of preventing further European wars. The great Italian patriot and revolutionary, Mazzini, also believed in a federation of European nation states, dedicated to peace.

In the 20th century, one of the great advocates for European economic union in the Labour movement was Ernest Bevin. Bevin was one of the founders, with Harry Gosling, of the TGWU and the foreign minister in Atlee’s government after the War. At the TUC Congress in 1926, Bevin urged in the name of his union that a formal resolution should be passed

That notwithstanding the political divisions of Europe, this Congress instructs the General Council to further, through the international organisations, a policy having for its object the creation of a European public opinion in favour of Europe becoming an economic unity.
(Francis Williams, Ernest Bevin: Portrait of a Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952, p. 149).

Bevin was a frequent visitor to the International Labour Office in Geneva, and helped to reform the International Transport Workers’ Federation after the War. His biographer, Francis Williams, considered that his experience of the profound economic links between workers in various countries right across Europe helped shape his internationalism and support for European economic union. Williams writes of his 1927 speech in favour of economic union for Europe

“Anyone who has had to follow the transport trades of the world”, he said, “realizes that while you may satisfy political ambitions by the establishment of boundaries the economic development of the world is often in total conflict with national aspirations. I recognise and my union recognises that national aspirations and national boundaries are bound to be a great handicap to us … but we also believe that if we are to develop nationally we have got to show our people unionism in terms of raw materials, in terms of harvests, cycles of trade and exchange…”

“We have,” he continued, “debated all this week as if Britain had no industrial problem to solve. But Britain has got a problem and it is no use attacking unemployment unless we try at least to make a contribution towards its solution and one of the complications throughout Europe has been the creation of a greater number of national boundaries as a result of the Versailles Treaty… The Labour Movement should carry on a great educational work in promoting the development of all forms of national culture even to the extent of political divisions and yet at the same time to inculcate the spirit of a United States of Europe on an economic basis… Cast your eye over Europe,” he went on, “with its millions of underfed, with its millions of people with a wretchedly low standard of living. We can have mass production, we can have intensified production, but we must, in order to absorb that mass production direct consuming power ot the millions of people in Europe whose standard of living is not far removed from the animal…. When we meet our international friends (let us) talk of the real problems of Europe in terms of materials, in terms of goods, in terms of the productive capacity of the peasantry, in terms of exchange, and drive along the line of endeavouring to create a feeling of interdependence between the production of the peasantry from the land of the craftsmanship of the workshop…”

Although in 1927 Bevin no doubt underestimated the political difficulties in the way of European Economic Union and was somewhat too facile in his belief in a United States of Europe this speech is interesting not only for its evidence of the widening of his own view of the duty of the trade unions but because the premises on which it was based remained all his life fundamental to his view of international affairs. They later deeply influenced his policy as Foreign Secretary, not least in his response some twenty years later to Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech on European economic dislocation the full significance of which, as the Annual Register at the time commented, “was not realised on either side of the Atlantic” until Bevin “grasped with both hands” the opportunity it offered of American aid in initiating European co-operation and thus brought into being the Marshall Plan.

In 1927 he was thinking aloud, dreaming a little as he said because “to be a dreamer is sometimes necessary”, and his thoughts brought many angry responses from other delegates to the Congress. Some of them opposed him because they considered that it was the T.U.C.’s business to deal with practical matters and not waste its time on large visions of this kind, others because the idea of European union seemed to them to run counter to the old socialist ideal of an all-embracing international. To this latter argument Bevin replied belligerently that he was not less an internationalist because he was also a realist. It was fine to talk about a world-wide international. but that was far away. meanwhile trade barriers to Europe were keeping living standards low and big employers were developing cartels to safeguard their own interests at the expense of the community. His resolution was carried in the end by 2,258,000 votes to 1,464,000 although both the miners and the railwaymen opposed him. (pp. 151-2).

Williams also says of his idea for a united Europe that

In the past he had been preoccupied with the need to develop trade union power in order to establish a counter-weight to the organised power of employers. Now he saw the solution to many of the world’s economic problems in somewhat similar terms, preaching the need for Britain to develop, either through participation in an economic United States of Europe “spreading from the borders of Russia right to the borders of France”, or in a Commonwealth and European bloc or both, a counter-weight to the economic power of the United States and the potential economic power of Russia. (p. 153).

This was one of the reasons the EEC, the EU’s precursor was founded – so that through an economic union European trade and industry could compete with the US and Soviet blocs. Moreover, the Social Charter in the EU safeguards some basic workers’ rights, rights that are severely threatened by the Brexit campaign.

Shirley Williams on Economic Disruption by Trade Unions and Big Business

May 21, 2016

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who then went off to form the SDP in the 1980s, also discusses the alleged damage for which the trade unions were allegedly responsible to the economy, in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin). She concedes that some industrial problems were due to inflationary wage demands by the unions, but also believed that big business was also guilty of the same policies themselves. She also argued that the unions’ pay policy also had a beneficial effect, and that where strikes broke out, it was because the workers were poorly treated, and not given sufficient information on their predicament by the management. She wrote:

Trade unions are held responsible for many of Britain’s economic weaknesses, but criticism of unions is by no means restricted to Britain.

The power of unions and their irresponsibility, so one would have to conclude from the pronouncements of neoclassical economics, business representatives and conservative parties, is the one single factor (apart, perhaps, from the greed of the OPEC countries) which explains most of what is presently wrong with western economies. By raising the price of unskilled labour beyond its market value, union wages are said to be the major cause of unemployment, and by exploiting the scarcity value of skilled labour, they are said to be directly responsible for wage-push inflation.

Thus writes Fritz Scharpf, Direct of the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, in a paper entitled Capitalism of Yesteryear – and of Tomorrow?

Apart from their effect on wages, trade unions are alleged to disrupt production schedules and delivery dates by strikes, both official and unofficial. The growth and prosperity of industry are damaged by restrictive practices such as overmanning, fragmentation of jobs by craft unions, limits on the output of individual workers or of equipment, and burdensome conditions before agreement can be reached on installing new machinery or introducing new processes. ‘Productivity is now importantly hampered by overmanning and restrictive practices which, if they could be reduced or removed, would allow rapid increases in productivity,’ concludes the OECD’s 1980 Economic Survey of the United Kingdom.

But restrictive practices are by no means limited to the labour market, as the last chapter demonstrates. Much more than the United States, Western Europe has relied on cartels, pricing agreements, market-sharing arrangements and monopolies to limit and restrict competition. what has been true of labour has also been true of business. The strength of organised labour grew relative to that of business in the decades of full employment after the war, so that some trade unions were able to insist upon conditions for recruitment and particular qualifications for skill. In Britain, the folk memory of mass unemployment between the wars has been very slow to fade, perhaps because of the persistence of the class system, perhaps because of relatively low geographic mobility. Restrictive practices have often been adopted as a means of protecting jobs, which in the short run they may do. In some firms the workload during normal working hours has been limited so that workpeople have been able to work long hours of overtime as well. Overtime has become endemic in some industries and is quite often guaranteed.

Wages and Inflation

But trade union’s resistance to wage cuts during recessions, far from damaging industrial economies, has been an important stabilising factor. Wages and salaries constitute a very large part, usually about three fifths, of the national income. They are therefore the main element in domestic demand. Wage cuts, complemented by cuts in unemployment pay (the ‘dole’), helped to precipate the slump of the 1920s and 1930s. To quote Fritz Scharpf again:

Perhaps the most important [of the stabilizing factors] is the ‘downward stickiness’ of wage which are determined by collective bargaining. They have stabilised the income, and thus the demand, of the great majority of wage earners even in recession periods, and they have so far helped to avoid the vicious cycle of downward spiralling demand that caused the great depression. (Pp. 128-9).

Discussing the differences between trade union structure and membership in Britain and Germany, Williams states

The job of German trade unions is also eased by the amount of information on the state of the economy and of each individual company available to their members through the system of works councils. German workers know the effect that inflationary settlements will have on employment prospects and on prices because the facts are available to them. They also know when they are getting paid too little. This basis of consultation underpins West Germany’s bargaining system. In Britain, a heavy price is paid in suspicion and antagonism because so little information is revealed and so few companies consult their workers. (p. 131).

In other words, if you involve the workers in the management of their industries and economies, they will defend their own interests, of course, but in an informed and responsible manner. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Neoliberals, the CBI and the Tories have been claiming.

The argument that wages should not be cut, nor should unemployment benefit, because these actually stimulate the economy, whereas the money raised through the tax cuts given to the super-rich does nothing but lie in their bank accounts, has been time and again by economists and bloggers like the Angry Yorkshireman and Mike at Vox Political. Ha-Joon Chang makes the point that the tax cuts don’t work in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, in an entire chapter devoted to destroying the trickled-down argument. But such policies are popular, because they satisfy the greed and venomous contempt and fear the middle classes have for the poor.