Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Bevin’

Labour’s Foundation of the NHS and the Welfare State

December 18, 2018

Every now and then the Tories try to claim that Labour did not found the welfare state. They either claim that they did, or they try to minimize Labour’s role in its foundation by concentrating instead on the fact that it was based on the proposals made by Lord Beveridge in his report of 1943. But the NHS was effectively founded by Nye Bevan, who became the minister responsible for its establishment under Clement Attlee. Furthermore, the ultimate origins of the welfare state and NHS lay with the Webb’s minority report on the state of healthcare in Britain in 1906. The Socialist Medical Association demanded a socialized system of healthcare in the 1930s, and this was taken up by the Labour party. The Fabian Society in this period also produced a series of reports arguing for the establishment of what would be known as the NHS. Francis Williams, in his biography of Ernest Bevin, another minister in that great Labour government, also describes this process. He writes of the Labour party in the 1930’s

To most of its opponents at this time the Labour party seemed to be wasting its time on producing a whole series of policy reports which stirred little public interest and which seemed unlikely to have any practical administrative significance. In fact, however, these policy reports which, beginning with ‘Currency, Banking and Finance’, went on to ‘The Land and the National Planning of Agriculture’, ‘The Reorganisation of the Electricity Supply Industry” and ‘National Planning of Transport’ (all completed within two years of the 1931 defeat) and, continuing therefore, year after year, on almost every aspect of national policy including coal, iron and steel, a National Health Service, Education, Pensions, Unemployment, Industrial Insurance, Housing and Colonial Development, provided the party with the practical programme on which it eventually secured a parliamentary majority and laid for the foundations for the packed legislative programme of 1945 to 1950. (Williams, Ernest Bevin (London: Hutchinson 1952), pp. 182-3).

Now the NHS and the welfare state is being threatened by the Tories, the Lib Dems, and the Blairites. The present Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to restore the welfare state, renationalize the NHS, as well as part of the electricity grid, water and the railways. This is all very much needed, and it’s very far from being some kind of Communist programme, as the hysterical press and BBC would like us all to believe. It’s simply a partial return to the programme of the 1945 Labour government, which gave the country over three decades of prosperity and economic growth before the election of Thatcher.

Thatcher’s policies of privatization, the decimation of the welfare state and the privatization of the NHS has resulted in mass poverty. It has increasingly been shown to be threadbare. If Britain’s working people are to be given proper jobs, proper rights at work, continuing free healthcare and a genuinely fair provision for their old age, sickness and disability, we have to go back to the old Labour programme of the ’30s and ’40s, and get May and her profiteers and murderers out, and Corbyn in.

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Next Week’s Episodes on the Radio 4 Series on the History of British Socialism

February 25, 2018

The BBC Radio 4 series, British Socialism: The Grand Tour, continues on its usual timeslot of 1.40 pm on weekdays next week, beginning with a programme on Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Here’s the programmes due to be transmitted, with the brief descriptions of them from the Radio Times.

Monday
Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the Fabian Society

Michael Ward, Dianne Hayter and Steven Fielding join Anne McElvoy to explain how Beatrice and Sidney Webb contributed to the development of the modern welfare state.

Tuesday
Ernest Bevin vs. Stafford Cripps

McElvoy traces the battle between rival traditions of British socialism amid the crises of the 1930s.

Wednesday
1945

Anne McElvoy examines how Ellen Wilkinson went from the Communist Party to the Jarrow March, and to a seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Education.

Thursday
Socialist Feminism and 1968

Anne McElvoy explores how the women’s liberation movement and the politics of 1968 changed the language of socialism in Britain. With contributions from Sally Alexander of Goldsmiths, University of London; Barbara Taylor of Queen Mary, University of London; and Jon Lawrence of the University of Exeter.

Friday
Tony Benn

Amid the crises of 1970s, competing strands of British socialism struggled for dominance. There were the statist technocrats, who looked back to Labour’s 1945 victory and the building of the Welfare State; the post-1968 generation who had revived the tradition of a socialism focused more on radical self-realization. Meanwhile, the shop stewards forged a new approach to trade unionism. So when Tony Benn moved from a mild, modernising emphasis on the possibilities of technology, and started marching alongside workers who had occupied their factories, it was a significant turn. Present by Anne McElvoy.

And there’s an omnibus edition of that week’s programmes on the same channel at 9.00 pm in the evening that same day.

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

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

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

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

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

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

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

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

Guild Socialism in Britain

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

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

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

The Fascist Corporative State

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

Non-Fascist Corporativism

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

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

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

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

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

Drawbacks and Criticism

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

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

Vox Political on Blairite Entryism

August 17, 2016

Yesterday, Mike also put up a piece from Medium entitled ‘Blairite Entryism’. This was about an email from three councillors for Oval Ward in Lambeth, Jack Hopkins, Jane Edbrooke and Claire Holland, appealing for people to join the Labour party so they could vote out Jeremy Corbyn. They made the usual noises about Corbyn and his supporters being unsuitable for government, stated that as well as trying to tackle inequality and protecting the most vulnerable, they were also active running basic council services, and threatened that if Corbyn was elected, it would mean the disappearance of many present Labour councillors. The email was sent to everyone, including Lib Dems and Conservatives. It was specifically targeted at the members of other parties, who were not Labour voters, to join simply to get rid of Corbyn.

Mike asks the question why Tom Watson, if he is so frightened by Left-wing entryism into the Labour party, isn’t also denouncing this Right-wing entryism, and demanding that they be duly punished in the same way as all the Trotskyites he imagines are out there.

Of course Watson won’t. Part of Tony Blair’s strategy to appeal to the right was to recruit Conservatives into the Labour party and the government. Those who switched sides were parachuted into safe Labour seats, often at the expense of the popular, Labour candidate for those areas. When it came to government officials, Blair decided that his was a Government Of All the Talents, and included even present members of the Tory party. This included Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong. It was noted by Blair’s critics that he was far more comfortable with these Tories than he was with traditional Labour party members.

As for the long paranoia and fear about left-wing entryism into the Labour party, this has been around since the 1920s. Labour were concerned about possible Communist party infiltration, and so passed a resolution to remove members of the extreme left. The official stance of the Labour party is opposition to the class war, which is one of the major planks of Communist ideology. There is a problem in that under Stalin, the Comintern did have a policy of turning western Communist parties into carbon copies of the Soviet Communist party, and using them to further specific Russian foreign policy goals rather than those favouring their own nations. One of the reasons Communist Yugoslavia split from the Soviet bloc and aligned with NATO instead was because Stalin tried this effect takeover of their nation through the international Communist organisation. Milovan Djilas, the dissident Marxist writer and one of the architects of the system of worker’s control in the former Yugoslavia, described this process in his autobiography, Rise and Fall. For example, the official Communist international line demanded that the press in the satellite countries printed stories mainly about Russia, to the exclusions of articles about the satellite nations itself. And the way Stalin took over and the nations liberated by the Soviet Union during the Second World War into Communist states under the sway of the Soviet Union was by infiltrating, amalgamating and purging the local Socialist and opposition parties. For example, in East Germany the Social Democrats were, against their wishes, forcibly amalgamated with the Communist party. The leading Social Democrat politicians were then purged, and the majority Social Democrats then reformed as a Communist party, along the way turning their country into a Communist state. This didn’t just happen to Socialist parties. It also happened to non-Socialist parties, which occupied the leading left-wing position, such as the Peasant’s Party in Hungary.

There were also attempts to take over the trade unions through the Soviet trade union organisation. It’s why Ernest Bevin, the veteran trade unionist and Labour politician, hated Communism.

And it wasn’t just the Communists, who tried these antics. The Socialist Workers’ Party, which is the country’s main Trotskyite organisation, was notorious for trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and campaigns in order to turn them into its front organisations. The ‘Rock Against Racism’ movement fell apart in the 1980s after they gained a majority on its leading committee. The campaign then declared it was working in concert with the Socialist Workers. The majority of its members, who weren’t interested in Trotskyism but simply wanted to listen to rockin’ bands while saving the country from the NF and the rest of the Fascists, voted with their feet and left.

Other extreme left-wing organisations adopt the same tactics. In the early 1990s a group of anarchist troublemakers tried to infiltrate a re-enactment group of which I was part. They left en masse after they were caught discussing their plans to take control of it.

Much of the fear of left-wing entryism into the Labour party and the trade unions was also stoked by the Americans as part of the Cold War. Robin Ramsay and Lobster have published a number of articles describing and criticising the process by which the American and British intelligence agencies sponsored various working class movement and organisations to combat possible Soviet influence. The Blairite hysteria here over Corbynite ‘Trotskyites’ is part of this pattern, as Blair and the other leading members of New Labour were sponsored by the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, a Reaganite project to influence the coming generation of politicians in favour of the Atlantic alliance and American interests.

All this hysteria ignores the fact that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a Trot, and neither are his followers. They’re traditional old Labour. But this is too much for the New Labour capitalists, who get the vapours every time somebody mentions traditional, old Labour values, like working for the working class, protecting the unemployed, nationalisation and a mixed economy. New labour’s based entirely on copying the Tories and trying to steal their ideas and voters. And hence this attempt by the three Lambeth councillors to pack the party with voters from the Right, all the while screaming about the threat of the extreme left. The Blairites themselves are entryists – capitalist entryist, spouting Thatcherite nonsense. This should have no more place in the Labour party than Communists or Trotskyites on the hard Left.

The Blairites and Middle Class Entitlement

August 14, 2016

Mike today put up a couple of pieces on the latest plans by the Blairites to hold on to power against Jeremy Corbyn and the majority of Labour members. One was to try and resurrect David Miliband as a challenger to Corbyn’s leadership. This is a sick joke, considering how unpopular Miliband was before under the old rules. He’d fare even worse now. And it shows how utterly cynical and manipulative they are about trying to insert him in Jo Cox’s vacant seat as the PLP’s preferred candidate, over the wishes of her constituency.

The other plan is a new, internal Labour party group, called Tomorrow’s Labour, which intends to set up an astroturf – fake grassroots movement – against Corbyn using spambots. This is pretty much against the rules of the internet as it is, and make a mockery of their claim to be fully transparent, and compliant with all existing rules.

I wonder how far the Blairites’ determination to hang on to power, no matter what the cost, is due to their sociological origins. I was talking to a friend of mine the other week, who remarked on the very middle class backgrounds of the Blairite politicians. Old Labour was largely, though not exclusively, working class. Many of its politicians had come into politics as members of their trades unions. These were people like Ernest Bevan, Nye Bevan, and the veteran Labour left-winger, Dennis Skinner. Obviously, there were even then members of the middle class involved in Socialist politics, like Clement Atlee, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and the Fabians. This began to change in the 1960s, as the Labour party deliberately set out to attract a more middle class membership, as advocated by Tony Crosland. In order to attract them, it played down and minimised its advocacy of nationalisation. The Labour leader at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, wanted to drop Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution which advocated nationalisation. He failed. Despite this move to the Right, the Labour party still remained committed to the national ownership of the utilities and certain other important industries, such as mining and steel. Crosland himself was responsible for the introduction of comprehensive schools. Although this has been very loudly decried, the old system of schooling did reinforce class divisions and prevent children from working class backgrounds rising upwards. The party was also committed to a planned economy, something that also went very much against the principles of free marketeers like Milton Friedman and von Hayek.

All this went out the window with the 1979 election victory of Thatcher and the continued electoral success of the Conservatives. This convinced the Labour Right to adopt all of her policies – privatisation, the destruction of the NHS as a public service, the dismantlement of the welfare state and increasing criminalisation of the poor. They also turned away from the working class, and concentrated on trying to win votes from middle class voters in marginal constituencies.

And the party’s demographics also changed. Many of the New Labour MPs were like Harriet Harman. She’s a millionaire. They tend to be very middle class boys and girls, privately educated, with the advantages that accrue to the members of those classes. They sit on the boards of companies, various quangos and are active in the charities. This is all very well, but it makes me wonder how far the Blairites are motivated by purely ideological convictions, and how much of it comes from instinctive class loyalty? These are people, who have never had to work hard to get into their current position of power. They don’t have much contact with the working class, and apparently share the middle classes’ hatred and fear of them. You can see it in their determination to cut down on welfare benefits for the unemployed and for their support for workfare, as well as the unchallenged belief in the sociological myth of mass pockets of unemployment where nobody in a family has worked for generations. And there’s the instinctive hatred of the privately educated businesspeople for the trade unions.

As a rule, the middle classes uncritically accept that they have a privileged place in society, which is theirs by right. A little while ago Secular Talk did a piece, reporting on a study that found that the richer you are, the more likely you are to believe that the existing state of society was just. I don’t doubt that. Now I don’t deny that some of them are genuinely concerned with enlarging democracy through campaigns against racism and for female empowerment. They may also sincerely believe in Thatcher’s twaddle about making conditions worse for people in order to encourage them to try to rise above their station. But they do so through the middle class assumptions they have inherited as part of their background, including their belief that they have an innate right to rule. This might not be articulated or even conscious, but it seems to be there.

Hence the determination to hang on to power whatever the cost, the wild, stupid denunciations of Corbyn’s supporters as hippy Trots wearing donkey jackets. The great unwashed are trying to take their party back after good, Blairite middle class types have tried to make it respectable. How dare they! And so we come to their attempts to clean out Corbyn’s supporters through denying them a voice, in order to retain their middle class supporters and appeal to a middle class electorate.

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.

Vox Political on Yvette Cooper Condemning Renationalisation

February 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political also has a piece from the Independent about Yvette Cooper. Apparently, she is set to make a speech attacking the nationalisation of industry as an old, discredited idea. It will not help modern workers, according to her, or those trying to ‘build an app’. Mike therefore asks if she’s deliberately trying to mislead people about the issue in defending ‘wasteful’ privatisation. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/is-yvette-cooper-deliberately-misleading-people-about-nationalisation/.

Now I agree with Mike that privatisation is wasteful. It also led, paradoxically, to a massive increase in bureaucracy. This expanded massively when the utility companies, including that for water, sewage and the environment, were sold off and separate regulatory bodies had to be set up. In order to try and keep to their promise that selling off Britain’s family silver would reduce bureaucracy, they had to cut down on the regulatory bodies so that they wouldn’t have so much power, and wouldn’t represent the interests of the consumers. And there was also the usual revolving doors between the civil service and the privatised utility companies, where the mandarins who were supposed to be watching them in the public interest did no such thing, and later got a job with them after they left Whitehall. I can remember reading report after report on this, fortnight after fortnight, in Private Eye in the ’90s. It was all part of the sleaze surrounding John Major’s administration.

I’ve also heard that, despite the impression given by privatisation that all aspects of energy generation, and its supply, and that of water and gas, the actual infrastructure remains the concern of the state. The private utility companies get to cream off the profits, but the actual maintenance of the national grid, pipes and so on remain the duty of the state, which bears the financial burden. Now I’ll have to check on this, but if it’s true, then privatisation really has been just a scam with minimal benefit to the consumers. Quite beyond the very obvious profiteering we’ve seen by the energy companies themselves.

Now let’s come to the example of the information technology industry she used. It won’t help workers developing an app, according to Cooper. Now, the free marketeers just love the computing and information technology. Look, they say, at the way a group of private individuals in the 1970s – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others, built a whole industry from sheer private enterprise, all in the garages or spare time or whatever. The Financial Times had a go at this myth, as did Adam Curtis in his documentary, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. The Financial Times pointed out that the kids, who were able to create the modern computing industry, were able to do so not because of the free market, or because their part of California had excellent schools, or indeed any of that. They were able to get ahead and develop it because they were all already very wealthy, and could afford to develop their creations. And Adam Curtis in his documentary went and showed that the mathematical basis behind the suggestion that private enterprise gives better results through allowing people to co-operate independently and form a coherent strategy without a central planner was also baloney.

And if you want a real counter-example, then try France. The French computer industry was created in the 1970s through the efforts of the French state. And the French have been very successful in their efforts. So central planning, nationalisation and state investment can help create jobs in the high technology sector. Even in America, my guess is that much of the technology sector is supported by generous state subsidies, regardless of what Cooper believes or think she knows about the benefits of laissez faire industry.

Now I have to say, I think Cooper genuinely believes that private enterprise is superior to nationalised and state-owned industry. It’s a basic item of faith of the New Labour clique. And she also has a point about nationalisation not necessarily benefiting workers. Harry Gosling, the founder of the T&GWU with Ernest Bevin, made a speech in Bristol stating that nationalisation wouldn’t do so unless it involved a degree of worker’s control. And proper representation of the workforce in the workplace is what trade unions are for. It’s also what the Labour party was set up to do. Unfortunately, Blair, Broon and New Labour decided that they didn’t. Just before one of the two left office – I can’t remember which one – they passed a whole tranche of legislation actually weakening the unions. Moreover, on the government website telling you what rights you had under the law as a worker, there was also a secret section for employers that told them how they could circumvent all this. So there’s an element of hypocrisy there. Cooper’s against nationalisation, because it wouldn’t help the workers. But Blair wasn’t keen on organised Labour either. I can remember how he threatened to cut the ties between the unions and the Labour party.

And there’s more, much more to be said about this. I’ll blog about the foundation of the nationalised industries some other time. But for now, the opposite of what Cooper said is true: privatisation is discredited, and the privatisers of New Labour have also shown themselves unwilling to act for the poor or the working class either. It’s why UKIP took off so spectacularly. And while their leadership are privatisers on steroids, most of the grassroots members actually want the utilities nationalised. The Angry Yorkshireman wrote several pieces about this, all of which are worth reading.

D-Day and the Creation of the NHS

June 7, 2014

NHS D-Day pic

Earlier today I reblogged Mike’s article attacking the censorship of one of the posters to the Labour Forum. This person, agewait, had had their posts repeatedly removed from the Forum and been told that they were ‘very offensive’. They had created the image reproduced here at the top of this very post, showing the courageous D-Day servicemen about to do battle, and linked it to Harry Leslie Smith’s attack on the government’s reform of the NHS. The Forum immediately deleted the posts, and responded to agewait’s inquiry why they were doing this with the statement:

“D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”

Agewait himself gave his account of what happened in a comment to Mike’s article:

Thank you for highlighting this issue. I am the creator and apparent antagonist by posting this and another related post on the so called ‘Labour Forum’. I was angered by their actions and told them so (without swearing) – I asked for them to be reinstated, but I was threatened with a ban – So I told the jumped-up, swaggering b*****d just what I thought about him and his tin-pot political correctness, knowing full well I would be banned. I was extremely angry with them for initially removing the posts and angered more by the explanation which was not only inaccurate but extremely patronising. I am not anti-labour, but it does appear to be anti-working class… It is time it realised the people didn’t leave them, they left us…. disengaged chatterers…. and out of touch with the passion people have for the injustices against so many people who have witnessed a blitzkrieg attack upon their NHS and their Social Security system with so many, too many so called labour MPs standing by whilst others cash in on their financial interest in the Private Health sector…. Thanks again – Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere. I feel they should apologise for removing the posts – I don’t expect or wish for a personal apology not after sharing a small section of my anger and disgust with their outrageous tactics. Adrian Wait.

The Labour Forum’s censorship is wrong and completely ahistorical. Mike has already pointed out in his article that the Beveridge Report setting up the NHS was in response to concerns about the victories of the German army at the start of the War, which drove us out of France and back to Britain. The Germans were better nourished and healthier, with the support of old age pensions, unemployment and sickness insurance brought in by Bismarck in the 1870s. When the Liberals first introduced these measures shortly before the First World War, the Germans boasted that the Reich had already had them for over forty years.

Richard Titmuss in his 1950 Problems of Social Policy, which linked the creation of the welfare state very firmly to the experience and necessities of providing for the civilian population during the War. G.C. Peden in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher, states

Titumuss argued that the hazards of war were universal and that prewar principles of selectivity could no longer be applied. Bomb victims could not be treated like recipients of poor relief. The Unemployment Assistance Board, which became simply the Assistance Board, was used to pay out hardship allowances, rather than leave these to local Public Assistance Committees, which were associated in the public mind with the Poor Law. When inflation reduced the value of old age pensions, the Assistance Board was empowered to pay supplementary pensions based on need, and by 1941 the Board was dealing with ten times as many pensioners as unemployed men. As Minister of Labour, Bevin insisted on abolishing the household means test, and the Determination of Needs Act of 1941 substituted an assumed contribution from non-dependent members of a family. Titmuss stressed cross-party support for welfare policies. According to him (pp. 506-17), the condition of inner city children evacuated to more prosperous areas shocked public opinion and moved the Government to take ‘positive steps’. Cheap or free school meals and milk were made available to all children and not, as hitherto, only to the ‘necessitous’. Free milk, orange juice and cod liver oil were provided for all expectant mothers and for children under five years. In all these ways, Titmuss argued, the ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’ created favourable conditions for planning ‘social reconstruction’ after the war. (pp. 135-6).

Titmuss’ view has now been criticised, as Titmuss was excluded studying plans for post-War policy, and so his view did not necessarily correspond to the government’s actual intentions. Peden notes that the outbreak of the War halted slum clearance, house building, and may have delayed the extension of national insurance to workers’ families and dependence and the introduction of family allowances. The Tories own Research Department had been worried about their own chances of winning elections before the War, and so had suggested including the above measures in their manifesto. On the other hand, the TUC had opposed Family Allowances, as they feared this would allow employers to pay low wages, and there was little support for them from the government. (p. 135).

Peden does state that the War brought a massive expansion of state hospital provision, and that the government agreed with the Beveridge Report’s recommendation that there should be a free health service, while acknowledging that the Tories and the British Medical Association also wished to preserve private practice and the charity hospitals:

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly was had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war causaulties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health service in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnston successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (CMd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.

Peden then goes on to state that there is little evidence that the War created a lasting consensus in favour of the Welfare State. He does, however, agree that the experience of the war created a more universalist approach to social problems, and that it led to the main political parties meeting on a ‘Butskellite’ centre. (pp. 142-3). He considers instead that the solutions recommended by the Wartime government were merely attempts to deal with temporary insecurity caused by the War.

Nevertheless, the War had led to the demand for the creation of the NHS, and the massive expansion in state hospital provision. And the Labour party played on the desire to create a better society for the servicemen and women, who had fought so hard against Fascism and the Nazi menace, as shown in the poster below.

War Labour Poster

The Tories too, have had absolutely no qualms about using images from WW2 in their election propaganda. I can remember their 1987 election broadcast being awash with images of dog-fighting Spitfires, ending with an excited voice exclaiming ‘It’s great to be great again’. All while Thatcher was doing her level best to destroy real wages and smash Britain as a manufacturing nation in the interests of the financial sector. The satirist Alan Coren drily remarked that the broadcast showed that the War was won by ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’, and stated that it was highly ironic that in reality all the servicemen went off and voted Labour.

All this seems to have been lost on Labour Forum, which suggests that the mods in charge actually don’t know much about Socialism or the creation of the NHS. You could even wonder if they were actually Labour at all. If they were, then it certainly looks like a Blairite group, afraid that linking D-Day and the origins of the NHS will disrupt its part privatisation introduced by Blair. Many of the firms involved in this were American, and there is certainly massive hostility to any inclusion of the NHS as one of the great achievements of British history by the transatlantic extreme Right. They were fuming, for example, at Danny Boyle’s inclusion of the NHS in the historical tableaux at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. The censors over at Labour Forum seem to reflect this mentality, rather than anything genuinely and historically Labour. It’s time the Right-wing censors over at Labour Forum were finally shown the door, and a proper historical perspective and pride taken in the NHS, one of the great legacies left by the people, who fought so bravely to keep Europe free.

Ernest Bevin on Capitalism’s Deliberate Creation of Unemployment

May 10, 2014

Ernest Bevin pic

I found this quotation by the trade unionist and Labour politician, Ernest Bevin, in Francis Williams’ biography of the great man:

Unemployment is not accidental. it is deliberate on the part of the capitalistic system. The one weapon in the hands of the capitalist is starvation, not his brains, ability or managerial capacity, but his ability to hold or withhold the means to life to break you when your children cry for bread. (p. 91).

This is all too true. The Libertarians of the Chicago School recommended that there should be a constant unemployment rate of 6 per cent in order to prevent wages rising. And Margaret Thatcher’s administration deliberately destroyed British heavy industries, such as mining and steel, in order to break the unions.

Ernest Bevin’s Reforms for the Disabled

May 10, 2014

Ernest Bevin pic

Yesterday I managed to get hold of Francis Williams’ biography of the great trade unionist and Labour politician, Ernest Bevin, Bevin was born in Winsford in Somerset, and started his political career in Bristol, where he joined the Bristol Socialist Society, a branch of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and founded the T.G.W.U. with Harry Gosling. He later became foreign minister under Clement Attlee.

Among his achievements was legislation compelling firms to employ the disabled, and setting up the Disabled Person’s Employment Corporation to promote factories for them. Williams describes this work as follows:

This constant feeling for men and women as human beings came out strongly in the training schemes he set up to try to make sure that as far as war conditions allowed people were fitted into the sort of job they would do well and feel successful at. And it showed particularly in his anxiety to give disabled men and women the best possible chance to establish themselves in the community. One of his dearest ambitions found its expression in the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act which established a register of disabled persons – not those disabled in war service only but all disabled over sixteen – and made it compulsory for firms with over twenty persons to engage a percentage of employees from this register. He set up a Disabled Persons’ Employment Corporation to start factories for those unlikely to obtain work on their own account and launched vocational training and industrial rehabilitation courses, including a residential rehabilitation centre, to help the disabled to master new skills. In all this he emphasized that what must be kept in mind was not only that it was important for the nation to be able to command all the labour resources possible but even more the effect upon a disabled man’s own sense of status, of his feeling of being needed and of having a place in the community, if he could master new skills. Feeling so strongly about this he put this side of his Ministry’s work directly in charge of his Parliamentary Under Secretary George Tomlinson, later Minister of Education, because ” George cares for people’. (Ernest Bevin: Portrait of A Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952) 224).

The contrast with the present administration is striking. Instead of caring for people, it has put the departments supposedly supporting the most vulnerable under petty sadists and tyrants, like Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Instead of empowering the disabled and unemployed and supporting their feelings of self-worth, they have done the exact opposite. And instead of actively supporting the employment of the disabled in workshops set up specifically for them, they have done the opposite and closed Remploy’s workshops down.

IDS touted his Universal Credit and welfare reforms as the greatest since the abolition of slavery. This spiteful and malicious individual is massively deluded. The real reformers were Bevin and his fellows. IDS, McVey and their cronies have done nothing but destroy their legacy of equality and empowerment.