Posts Tagged ‘Employees’

Vox Political: Bank of England Economist Says High Executive Pay Damages Economy

May 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece about the remarks by Andy Haldane, the Chief Economist at the Bank of England, that Britain’s economy is being damaged by exorbitantly high executive pay. An article in the Independent notes that the average pay of FTSE 100 bosses is now 150 times that of the average UK worker. The Indie then went on to say

This large and growing remuneration gap, Mr Haldane said, “drive[s] a wedge between management and employees…that in turn erodes social capital. A company, like a country, whose physical and social capital is being eroded is one whose wealth-creation capacity is being impaired.”

Social capital refers to trust and relationships in a society and Mr Haldane argued this matters “every bit as much to wealth and well-being” as financial capital such as stocks and shares and other such assets.

It also reported that there have been a number of shareholder rebellions against the high pay awarded to chief executives.

Mike comments

Trust between bosses and employees is at an all-time low – not helped by Conservative Government policies that trample on workers and try to reduce their rights and remuneration. Look at the junior doctors’ strike for an example.

Mr Haldane is saying the direct result of this is harm to the economy, and we can see that this is true.

Why would any worker want to provide a high-quality product for an employer who is ripping them off?

And if they lose their job, why would the next worker want to provide a high-quality product for an employer who is paying them less than the last worker (because they can)?

Go read Mike’s piece at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/19/highly-paid-bosses-are-harming-the-economy-says-bank-of-england-bigwig/ for more information and his very relevant remarks.

Chang Capitalism Book pic

The Korean-born economist, Ha-Joon Chang tackles this problem in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism in the chapter ‘Thing 14 US Managers Are Over-Priced’. Chang concentrates on American managers because they are paid a whopping 300-400 times that of the average American blue-collar Jose or Josie. They are paid way more than the managers of comparable companies elsewhere in the world, including Japan. The chapter is an attack on the Neo-Liberal attitude that if the managers are paid so much more than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, and their workforce, it must be because their performance is somehow worth it in the market economy. Chang shows that this is not the case. He argues that US managers now are not more efficient and effective than they were a generation ago, when they were only paid 30 to 40 times more than their workers. And they certainly aren’t worth that money compared to their European and Japanese competitors, who are actually beating them.

Finally, he discusses the damage such executive pay actually does to the wider economy. He argues that the managerial class now has so much power through their contacts in government and their grossly inflated pay that even when they fail, they are not punished, but instead rewarded. They most they receive are extremely generous severance packages. And the people who have to suffer, ultimately, to pay for their bloated salaries are the workers and the taxpayers, who have had to bail out the banks. He writes

Despite this, little is done to check excessive and biased (in that failures are hardly punished) executive pay packages because the managerial classes in the US and Britain have become so powerful, not least because of the fat paycheques they have been getting over the last few decades. They have come to control the boardrooms, through interlocking directorship and manipulation of information that they provide to independent directors, and as a result few boards of directors question the level and the structure of executive pay set by the CEO. High and rising dividend payments also keep the shareholders happy. By flexing their economic muscle, the managerial classes have gained enormous influence over the political sphere, including the supposedly centre-left parties such as Britain’s New Labour and America’s Democratic Party. Especially in the US, many private sector CEOs end up running government departments. Most importantly, they have used their economic and political influence to spread the free-market ideology that says that whatever exists must be there because it the most efficient.

The power of this managerial class has been most vividly demonstrated by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. When the American and the British governments injected astronomical sums of taxpayers’ money into troubled financial institutions in the autumn of 2008, few of the managers who were responsible for their institutions failure were punished. Yes, a small number of CEOs have lost their jobs, but few of those who have remained in their jobs have taken a serious pay cut and there has been an enormous, and effective, resistance to the attempt by the US Congress to put a cap on pay of the managers of financial firms receiving taxpayers’ money. The British government refused to do anything about the £15-20 million pensions payout (which gives him around £700,000 yearly income) to the disgraced former boss of the R.B.S. (Royal Bank of Scotland), Sir Fred Goodwin, although the intense negative publicity forced him subsequently to return £4 million. The fact that the British and the American taxpayers, who have become the shareholders of the bailed-out financial institutions, cannot even punish their now-employees for poor performance and force them to accept a more efficient compensation scheme shows the extent of power that the managerial class now possesses in these countries.

Markets weed out inefficient practices, but only when no one has sufficient power to manipulate them. Moreover, even if they are eventually weeded out, one-sided managerial compensation packages impose huge costs on the rest of the economy while they last. The workers have to be constantly squeezed through downward pressure on wages, casualization of employment and permanent downsizing, so that the managers can generate enough extra profits to distribute to the shareholders and keep them from raising issues with high executive pay (for more on this, see Thing 2). Having to maximise dividends to keep the shareholders quiet, investment is minimized, weakening the company’s long-term productive capabilities. When combined with excessive managerial pay, this puts the American and British firms at a disadvantage in international competition, eventually costing the workers their jobs. Finally, when things go wrong on a large scale, as in the 2008 financial crisis, taxpayers are forced to bail out the failed companies, while the managers who created the failure get off almost scot-free.

When the managerial classes in the US and, to a lesser extent Britain, possess such economic, political and ideological power that they can manipulate the market and pass on the negative consequences of their actions to other people, it is an illusion to think that executive pay is something whose optimal levels and structures are going to be, and should be, determined by the market. (pp. 155-6).

Advertisements

A Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management: Part Three

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

I’ve just put up two pieces, Parts 1 and 2, of this post, on a pamphlet I picked up years ago when I was a member of the Fabian Society. As I wrote in the first part of this essay, it was written by a ‘Guild Socialist’ – a British form of Syndicalism – to a shop steward, urging him to chose the most responsible and capable personnel to set on the shop stewards committees that had been set up in many factories in order to aid the war effort. The Guild Socialist believed that this would show management and employees that such councils, rather than being trouble-makers, were serious, capable partners in industry. Such an approach would immensely help workers’ demands for a greater share in industry.

Workers’ control is still a radical idea, but such a system of factory councils exist in Germany, Austria and Sweden. There was a similar system of workers’ control in Communist Yugoslavia. The shop steward’s committees mentioned in the pamphlets were councils set up to manage industrial disputes in the war time industries. Workers were forbidden to strike, but were given a place in management. These councils were largely dismantled after the war, as it was felt they placed too great restrictions on the unions’ ability to bargain. The councils did survive, however, in the Whitley Councils, that had been set up during the First World War in the Civil Service. I think these have since been dismantled under the Tories.

I put up the pieces from this pamphlet, not just because I agree with the general principle that workers’ should have a role in industrial management, but also to make a point about the value of trade unions themselves. Mike earlier this week put up a long piece on how workers have benefited from trade unions, after he was told by a woman when he went canvassing at the weekend that she wouldn’t vote Labour ‘after what the unions did to us’.

This clearly is a reference to 1979 Winter of Discontent, to which the Tories continually refer ad nauseam to justify their attacks on the unions. I’ve already put up a piece from one of the history books stating that Britain in the ’60s and ’70s was not unusually strike prone, and that most of the strikes in Britain were carried out according to the law, often with very good reasons behind them. And this pamphlet shows that even the radical wing of British trade unionism in the 1940s – that section that wanted a quasi-syndicalist reconstruction of society – did not do so out of a desire to cause mischief or deliberate disruption. Rather, they believed in efficiency, and that the workers on the shop floor quite often knew more about what was needed than a management, content solely on the maximisation of its own profits.

And, quite honestly, ‘Guild Socialist’ has a point. BHS collapsed, throwing 11,000 people out of work, because its chairman, Philip Green, starved it of investment. He did very well out of it, however. He may have left the company with a black hole in its pension fund of over half a billion pounds, but his ill-gotten gains was nicely stored in an offshore tax haven. Plus he got to buy a £400 million + yacht.

And this hasn’t been the only case of such flagrant mismanagement.

There have been a number of studies which show that the best run companies are unionised. This reinforces the point, repeated again and again in the Guild Socialist pamphlet, urging responsibility and competence. But Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of their cronies in big business aren’t interested in competence. Only in profiteering and impoverishing and exploiting the workforce. And they’re wrecking British industry to do it.

Kropotkin on How Employment Contracts Are Not the Product of Free Consent

April 26, 2016

In my last post, I quote the great Russian Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, on how capitalism will deliberately limit production and throw people out of work in order to keep profits high. In his essay ‘Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles’, Kropotkin also made this scathing criticism of the idea that employment contracts between employer and worker were made from free choice, when the reality was that the only choice was starvation for the worker. He wrote

First of all, there are two kinds of agreements: there is the free one which is entered upon by free consent, as a free choice between different courses equally open to each of the agreeing parties; and there is the enforced agreement, imposed by one party upon the other, and accepted by the latter from sheer necessity; in fact, it is no agreement at all; it is a mere submission to necessity. Unhappily, the great bulk of what are now described as agreements belong to the latter category. When a workman sells his labour to an employer, and knows perfectly well that some part of the value of his produce will be unjustly taken by the employer; when he sells it without even the slightest guarantee of being employed so much six consecutive months- and he is compelled to do so because he and his family would otherwise starve next week – it is a sad mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy – Adam Smith – was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. (Peter Kropotkin, ed. Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London: Freedom Press 1987) 52).

This has been the basis of Tory unemployment policy ever since Maggie took power in 1979. It was why the Tories introduced delays into benefit payments for workers, who voluntarily made themselves unemployed. And the same reasoning is behind the sanctions systems, and the idiotic contract you are supposed to sign indicating that you are actively looking for work when you sign on at the Jobcentre.

Vox Political: Corbyn Aid Says Companies Should Give Workers Shares

January 26, 2016

Last Thursday, Mike ran an article from that day’s Guardian, which reported that one of the Corbynistas in the Labour party, John McDonnell, had recommended that Labour should give employees the right to request their bosses to give them shares in their company. He also stated that employees should also have the right to buy out companies that are being dissolved, sold or floated on the stockmarket first before they are offered elsewhere.

This was after Corbyn had stated that companies should be prevented from paying their workers poverty wages while their bosses awarded themselves vast pay rises by limiting the amount management could pay themselves beyond those of their employees.

Mike stated of the proposal to extend workers’ ownership and co-operative control

These are plans that would succeed. Employment would stop being a trap, forcing people to slave for the enrichment of others while being forced to claim state benefits themselves; the government would pay out fewer in-work benefits as wages rise, meaning taxes could be diverted to other causes or cut altogether; and there would be much less of the old “us v them” enmity supported by our “divide and conquer” Conservatives.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/21/another-great-idea-a-labour-government-would-let-employees-own-shares-in-companies/ Go and read it.

Mike’s quite right. Germany and Austria have had workers in the boardroom and forms of workers’ control since the 1920s. They’ve been immensely successful, and have no doubt contributed to those countries’ stable, prosperous economies and the ‘social peace’ that has existed there. I’ve no doubt that when Corbyn and McDonnell made these speeches, there were splutterings of ‘Communism!’ and ‘Cultural Marxism!’ by right-wing blowhards, who know little of either. In point of fact, the German and Austrian Communist parties cordially hated workers being given power while the economy remained capitalist. This betrayed the working class, they claimed, by giving them a stake in the capitalist economy, thus preventing their radicalisation. It was part of the process by which Social Democratic leaders hoodwinked and betrayed the workers into supporting capitalism, rather than rising up and overthrowing it. Proper Communists, at least at that time, were much more in favour of letting capitalism become as predatory, rapacious and exploitative as possible in the hope that this would radicalise more members of the working class, who would then revolt and overthrow the capitalist system.

Furthermore, Maggie Thatcher attempted to make capitalism popular by spreading share ownership. She did so by making a percentage of the shares in the firms she privatised available to small investors, including their workers. Ten or twenty years after she did so, these shares had, of course, nearly all been gobbled up by the big capitalists. Nevertheless, this raises the questions: if it’s fine for Maggie Thatcher to offer shares in private industry to the workers, who were employed in them, then why, under the same logic, is it wrong for Corbyn and Labour to do so? After all, if the objective is to make employees work harder and be more loyal because they actually have a stake in those companies, then this should be a worthy goal no matter which government is in power. Correct?

As for workers having first refusal to buy out firms when they’re being sold off, this has been done in Argentina. There workers were given the option to buy and turn into co-operatives companies that were going to be shut down. I’ve put up here documentaries on them, one of which included Naomi Wolf as one of the talking heads. Although the vast majority have since been returned to capitalist ownership, it did save many firms. The proposal is essentially a sound one. If it’s turned down or sneered at, then this shows that the Tories and the capitalist class have absolutely no interest in creating a prosperous economy or jobs, but simply lining their own pockets at the expense of their employees.

And laws preventing company bosses from paying themselves excessively high wages beyond the rest of their employees have been in place in Japan since forever and a day. They were introduced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as part of their programme to create a harmonious, middle class society governed by the social consensus and which avoided creating social stress through excessively polarised incomes. Nobody was to be too rich, or too poor.

Japan is a very authoritarian society, with a lot wrong with it. It is extremely sexist and women are very definitely seen as belonging in the home. There is little welfare provision, which has become a major issue as increasing numbers of Japanese have been thrown out of work by the long-running economic crisis. There is also an element of racism in Japanese political culture. Only full-blooded Japanese have full civil rights. This means that the descendants of Korean immigrants or prisoners of war, that have been there for three generations, are effectively excluded from mainstream Japanese society. But their concern to ensure social harmony through limiting excessive management pay and fostering solidarity between management and workers is a good one, and doubtless has also contributed to Japan becoming one of the world’s strongest economies, apart from their reputation for quality products and hard work.

Corbyn and McDonnell have thus recommended policies that should lead to the revival of British industry, and which also have their echoes schemes put into practice by the political Right. There is thus little good reason to reject them.