Posts Tagged ‘Flexible Labour Market’

Book Attacking the Myth of Labour’s Defeat in the Winter of Discontent

September 14, 2016

Spokesman Books, the publishing arm of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, have also produced an edition of What Went Wrong, edited by Ken Coates. This book critically examines and refutes as grossly oversimplistic the myth that the Labour party lost the 1979 election because of trade union militancy during the notorious ‘Winter of Discontent’.

The book, with an accompanying blurb, is listed on their webpage at http://www.spokesmanbooks.com/acatalog/Michael_Barratt_Brown.html

I might have to get this one at some point, because, as the blurb itself says, it is very much ‘conventional wisdom’ that James Callaghan’s government fell because of the militant strike action by the trade unions. It’s brought up repeatedly by the Tories and the right-wing press whenever the unions are discussed or defended, along with comments and verbiage about not going back to the bad old days of the 1970s when Britain was held hostage by the union barons. And so forth.

Much of today’s problems can be traced back to the complete reverse. Thatcher broke the unions, and the result has been decades of poor wages at or below the rate of inflation, poor working conditions, and the creation of the ‘flexible labour market’, set up to make it easier for firms to sack people. Blair’s New Labour was as complicit in all this as the Tories. It was Tony Blair, who threatened to cut the party’s ties with the unions if they blocked his voting reforms. The result is 4.7 million people in Britain in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands only surviving through food banks.

Advocates of trade unions have pointed out that in companies where there are unions, not only do the workers enjoy higher wages and better conditions, the companies themselves are better run. Which is also an argument for worker’s control. It’s also an argument you are definitely not going to hear from the Conservatives or Smudger and his Blairite friends.

While I don’t want the country to suffer from frequent strikes, as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, we definitely do need more union power, not less.

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Private Eye on Corbyn and Trotskyite Anti-Parliamentarianism

August 20, 2016

Private Eye was running the old Blairite line yesterday that under Corbyn, Labour was being infiltrated by Trotksyites from the Socialist Worker’s Party. In the ‘Focus on Fact’ strip, which seems to be just the Blairites trying to have their revenge against the old Labour left for slights and incidents in the 1980s, they quoted the Socialist Workers’ a saying that all Momentum events were open to them. As proof of this, they further cited the SWP as saying that they’d managed to sell 127 copies of their paper at Momentum rally Newcastle, and about 20 or 30 odd in one of the southern towns.

Now I might be missing something, but this seems less than conclusive proof that they’ve infiltrated the Labour party. The fact that they are not thrown out of Momentum might show that there is some sympathy for them in Momentum, but it does not show that they have infiltrated it. Look at what was not said: the Socialist Workers did not say that they had infiltrated Momentum, only that they weren’t kicked out of Momentum’s rallies.

As for selling newspapers, at one time all Labour party or trade union events attracted people from the extreme left-wing parties. Way back in the 1980s a friend of mine went to a demonstration in Cheltenham against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ. He came back with a stack of papers being sold by people from the Communist party, including a copy of Worker’s Dreadnought, which was the paper of the ILP, still just about hanging on at that stage. And the Anarchist Ian Bone on his website talked about heckling Ed Miliband when Not So Red Ed came to speak out at an anti-austerity rally.

All this piece really showed is that there were some in Momentum, who weren’t completely hostile to the SWPs attending. But that’s quite different from infiltrating Momentum. If the story is true, of course. And given the fact that the Blairites have lied and lied again as if it’s going out of fashion, there’s no reason to believe that it is.

Elsewhere, the Eye also saw fit to mention that the SWP was against parliamentary democracy. This was to frighten us all again with the spectre of Trotskyites worming their way into Momentum to seize control of the Labour party, win power, and turn this country into Marxist dictatorship. It’s the kind of stupid, paranoid conspiracy theory that the Scum ran in the 1987 General Election, Frederick Forsythe turned into a thriller, and Maggie read and approved. It’s classic Thatcherite scaremongering. But it perversely had the effect of making me actually think higher of the SWP for a moment.

I don’t have much sympathy for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Their leader, Dave Renton, has written some excellent articles for Lobster, but the part itself is a threat and a nuisance because it does try to infiltrate and take over other left-wing protest groups and organisations. I’ve mentioned before how they broke up Rock Against Racism by infiltrating it and turning it into front organisation. There was also trouble on campus in Cheltenham in the 1990s when some of the students organised a demonstration against student fees. Unfortunately, someone also naively invited the Socialist Workers, who turned up with their megaphones haranguing the students, before being chased off by College and NUS staff.

Despite their stupid and destructive tactics, they’re right about parliamentary democracy. The corporate domination of parliament has shown it to be increasingly corrupt. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, holding between them 2,800 directorships in 2,400 companies, with a combined workforce of 1.2 million people and £220 billion. The laws passed by parliament reflect this corporate dominance – pro-free trade, anti-welfare, with a concern for ‘flexible labour markets’ through zero-hours and short term contracts. This bears out the Marxist idea that the state is an institution of class oppression.

As for the horrors of soviet-style government, Trotsky and Lenin were champions of the workers, soldiers’ and peasants soviets set up spontaneously by Russia’s working people during the first phase of the 1917 Revolution. Before the Bolshevik coup, these were genuinely democratic institutions. Apart from the Bolsheviks, there were other Socialist parties elected to them, including the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks, parties later dissolved and purged by the Bolsheviks. Now I think we need a genuinely democratic system of workers’ assemblies and a workers’ chamber in parliament in this country, because of the overwhelming upper class bias of existing parliamentary institutions. And it isn’t just the Trotskyites in the SWP, who want a system of worker’s soviets. I think Dennis Skinner says something positive about them in his autobiography. And I have the impression that the Tribune group within the Labour party also support this form of government. On their books website they offer a documentary history of the Council Revolution in Germany. This is interesting, because one of the major supporters of the council system, the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner, did so not because he wanted to destroy democracy, but augment and buttress it using the workers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Bolsheviks effectively neutered the workers’ council in Russia by taking them over and turning them into the instruments for exclusive Bolshevik government. But this doesn’t mean that they originally weren’t a good idea. And the Eye’s denunciation of the anti-parliamentary attitude of the Socialist Workers to my mind actually makes them look good when parliament is so corrupt, unrepresentative and increasingly hostile to working class representation and policies.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 1

August 8, 2016

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

They are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities.

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections. Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed.

Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

Corbyn Will Re-Introduce Collective Bargaining and End Zero-Hours Contracts

July 31, 2016

This looks like a piece of very good news. According to Mike, Jeremy Corbyn plans to repeal the laws passed by Blair’s government in 1999 limiting workers’ rights to have a recognised trade union, and end zero-hours contracts.

Corbyn wrote a piece in the Observer stating that he felt the changes were necessary due to the scandals over Sports Direct, Philip Green and BHS, and the Byron Hamburger chain to help immigration officials arrest 35 illegal immigrants, who were working for them.

At the moment, current legislation stipulates that a union wishing to be recognised at a workplace must show that 10 per cent of employees are members, and 50% want them to lead in pay bargaining. If that isn’t the case, then a secret ballot must be held, at which at least 40% of those able to vote do so, and the majority vote in favour of union recognition.

Corbyn, however, wants to introduce a French-style system, in which firms with over 250 members would have to recognise a specific trade union, and bargain with them over pay. He states

“Even Theresa May understands she has to pay lip service to change in the workplace and the boardroom …,” writes Corbyn.

“But the best way to guarantee fair pay is through strengthening unions’ ability to bargain collectively – giving employees the right to organise through a union and negotiate their pay, terms and conditions at work,” he writes.

“That’s why it should be mandatory for all large employers, with over 250 staff, to bargain collectively with recognised trade unions.”

Corbyn also states that he wants all workers to be given specified hours, that are written into their contracts. If an employer wants them to work beyond these hours, they are to specify the length of time and give them a reason. They will also have to give workers additional compensation, similar to an on-call payment, for being willing to work beyond their usual contracted hours, whether the workers in fact do so or not.

Mike is unsure about the wisdom of the reforms on union recognition, and would like comments on this matter from experts on trade union matters and employment law. However, he welcomes the proposal to end zero-hours contracts.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/corbyn-pledges-to-scrap-blair-union-laws-in-favour-of-collective-bargaining-and-an-end-to-zero-hours-contracts/

The decision to end zero-hours contracts is an excellent policy. Guy Standing devotes several pages in his book, A Precariat Charter, to attacking them. They are widely recognised as a highly exploitative and pernicious system of employment for those trapped in them.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack make clear that the assault on collective bargaining and the trade unions was a deliberate policy of Maggie Thatcher, and has resulted in the contraction of wages, high unemployment, and the impoverishment of the working class in their book, Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty(London: OneWorld 2015). They write

Deteriorating opportunities are also the direct product of an about-turn in the country’s political economy. At the end of the 1970s, fighting the rising rate of inflation became the number-one economic goal, displacing the former priority given to maintaining full employment. The instruments used – tight monetary and fiscal policies and a strong pound – accelerated long-term de-industrialisation, while triggering mass unemployment. The critical decision in the 1980s to adopt a more aggressive, market-oriented model of capitalism led to the sweeping away of regulations, the favouring of finance over manufacturing, the outsourcing of public sector jobs, relentless pressure on companies to cut labour costs and, critically, an assault on labour’s bargaining power.

Cabinet papers for 1983 reveal that Mrs Thatcher admonished Norman Tebbit for being too timid on trade union reform, telling him we ‘should neglect no opportunity to erode union membership’. In Britain the proportion of the workforce covered by collective bargaining has fallen from around eighty percent in 1979 to below twenty-five percent today (fifteen percent in the case of private sector workers). This is one of the lowest levels of coverage among rich nations, adding to the heavily skewed and economically unhealthy concentration of corporate power. The UK stands at twenty-first place out of twenty-seven countries in the European Union in terms of workplace representation, though parts of the European continent are also seeing more recent falls in the level of coverage, though from a much higher base.

Britain’s much vaunted ‘flexible labour market’, engineered during the 1980s to give business greater freedom to hire and fire, was necessary, it was claimed, to enable domestic firms to compete in an increasingly globalised economy. Such freedom for employers has continued to be championed by subsequent governments. Yet, just as over-restrictive labour laws can be bad news for dynamism, so can under-restrictive laws.

Britain’s low-wage, high-unemployment economy is as much the product of these internal, political forces as of external, economic ones. Indeed, it was later admitted by one of Mrs Thatcher’s top economic advisers that one of the government’s central aims was the taming of labour. ‘The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows … there may have been people making the actual policy decisions … who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment.’ This was how Sir Alan Budd, chief economic adviser at the Treasury in the 1980s, summed up – in 1992 – the multilayered assault on inflation and the unions. He continued: ‘And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…what was engineered there, in Marxist terms, was a crisis of capitalism which created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.’ (pp.101-3, emphasis mine).

They further write on page 242

Perhaps the most effective, and radical, measure for boosting the total wage pool at the bottom would be a rebalancing of bargaining power in favour of the workforce. Another would be a more concerted attempt to reduce the significant pay gap between men and women by raising women’s wages. Both measures would raise the share of national income going in pay and would be critical elements of an effective strategy for cutting poverty levels among the workforce.

Far from being a strength, the sustained decline in workforce bargaining power in the UK is an economic and democratic weakness. Because of the ‘wage premium’ associated with collective bargaining, this erosion of labour’s bargaining power has played a big role in wage contraction. Evidence across sixteen rich countries has shown that the higher the level of trade union membership, the lower the degree of inequality. Further, it is likely that the erosion may have encouraged British employers to move down a low-pay and productivity road. By being able to minimise pay and rely on casualised labour, British employers – unlike say their German counterparts – have had few incentives to improve skills and introduce more productive processes.

Phased in over time, such a policy mix – a boost to the minimum wage, a reduction
in the numbers on less than the living wage, wider collective bargaining coverage and lower unemployment – would put the thirty-year long trend of a shrinking wage share into reverse, and make an important contribution to reducing poverty among the low-paid, while taking some of the strain off the benefit system.

Corbyn’s decision to expand and strengthen collective bargaining therefore appears from this to be an excellent measure. It will also doubtless be attacked by the Confederation of British Industry and the right-wing press and Blairites with just about every ounce of abuse they can muster. We’ll hear once more about how this will threaten British businesses with bankruptcy, and how this will lead us all back to the strike-torn 1970s, the Winter of Discontent, and all the old Thatcherite rubbish. The reality is that Britain was no more strike-prone in the 1970s than many other countries, and much less so than America. And the Winter of Discontent was, in the views of at least one historian I’ve read, the response to the system of wage restraint buckling under the weight of political pressure it was not designed to deal with, and which the unions should not have been expected to shoulder.

Of course, the real reason for the rage at the reinstatement of collective bargaining and the ending of zero-hour contracts will be that it attacks the nearly forty years of exploitative Tory employment policies that Maggie introduced. These employment practices have caused real misery, just as Thatcher and the economists she followed, von Hayek and Milton Friedman, intended them to. They should end now.