Posts Tagged ‘Garages’

Latest Train-Wreck Idea from Hunt: Recruit Business Leaders as Ambassadors

November 1, 2018

I hope everyone had a great Hallowe’en yesterday. I can remember going to Hallowe’en parties as a child, and enjoying the spooky games and dressing up as witches, wizards, ghosts and goblins and so on. At the time, it was good, harmless fun, based on children’s fantasy stories. Adults had their own parties, of course, and there was also something in keeping with the season on TV or the radio. One year, the Archive Hour on Radio 4 looked back on the history of horror stories on the wireless, going all the way back to Valentine Dyall and The Man in Black, and Fear on Four. Actually, I think the only really frightening part of a genuinely traditional British Hallowe’en were the stupid section of the trick or treaters, who threw eggs and flour at your front door, and Carry on Screaming on the TV. This is the Carry On team’s spoof of Hammer Horror movies, in which Fenella Fielding appeared as the vampire Valeria. Fielding died a month or so ago. She was a very accomplished actress, but sadly got typecast because of her appearance in the movie. She was also a staunch Labour supporter, in contrast to her brother, who was a Tory MP. The film was a spoof, but it terrified me when I was in junior school. One critic of such movies once reckoned it was more horrific than anything Hammer produced. All good fun in its time, but I completely understand why some Christians and churches prefer to ignore it.

The Tories, however, chose yesterday to announce something equally ghastly. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has decided that he wants to create a thousand more ambassadorial posts. And he’s looking to fill at least some of these with business leaders.

Mike reported on this latest bad idea, and put up a few Tweets from Andrew Adonis. Adonis was a minister for New Labour, and he was very scathing about the idea. In one of them he said

we have 20 yrs experience of recruiting Trade Ministers from ‘business.’ Each of them have lasted about a year, having bagged the peerage & achieved little if anything. Think Digby Jones.

He also challenged Hunt to name one business leader who has been a successful ambassador, pointing out that they are different skill sets. It is, he said, the difference between being a successful foreign secretary and a student politician.

Mike also reminded everyone how the Tories tried a similar scheme with their free schools project. They decided to release free schools from all that stifling legislation the requires them to hire properly qualified teachers. The schools hired unqualified staff, and standards plummeted.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/10/31/hare-brained-hunt-wants-to-hire-business-leaders-as-ambassadors-remember-when-free-schools-hired-untrained-teachers/

It’s not hard to see that Michael Gove’s plan accomplished for schools, Hunt’s wheeze will do for British diplomacy. Ultimately, it comes from the peculiar social Darwinism the Tories share with their Republican counterparts over in the US. They consider businessmen the very best people to run everything, including essential state functions and services. Adam Curtis ripped into this idea, which was developed by the Libertarians in the 1990s, in one of his documentaries. This featured a clip of a Libertarian declaring that, in contrast to politicians, business leaders were better suited to running society because they knew what people wanted and were eager to give it to them through the profit motive. It’s a complete falsehood, as you can see from the way public services and the NHS have deteriorated thanks to Tory and New Labour privatization. Its part of the corporate takeover of the state, which has seen important posts in government go to businessmen and women, a process that has been extensively described by George Monbiot in his book, Captive State.

It also doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that not only are the skill sets involved in business and diplomacy different, but that the appointment of businesspeople in government leads, or can leads, to conflicts of interest. Trump caused controversy when his daughter attended him during talks with the Japanese. This was unethical and inappropriate, as she was the head of a business which could gain a material advantage over its competitors from the information she gained at these talks. Trade negotiations have always been a major part of diplomacy, with ministers and foreign office staff flying off to different parts of the world in the hope of achieving a trade agreement. It really isn’t hard to see how business leaders would be tempted to use their position as ambassadors to enrich themselves and their businesses.

And its also blindingly obvious that this situation will also lead to some deeply unethical foreign policy decisions. Just about the first story in this fortnight’s Private Eye is about how the government’s connections to the arms industry has kept them selling arms to the Saudis despite the butchering of civilians, including women and children in Yemen. Human rights activists and opposition groups have been calling for an end to the war and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, Private Eye notes that

The final decision on licensing falls to international trade secretary Liam Fox. His priority is business at any cost, and his department is judged on exports and investment into the UK.

See ‘Flying Fox’ in Private Eye, 2nd-15th November 2018, p.7).

Which shows you the Tories’ priorities in these cases: trade and business first, with Human Rights a very long way behind. But it will stop the government suffering embarrassments from ambassadors, who get concerned at the way the British government is propping up foreign dictators simply for the sake of profitable business deals. Like Craig Murray, who was our man in one of the new, central Asian states that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was appalled at the way Britain was doing just that with the local despot, spoke out, and was sacked and smeared for doing so.

It’s also a move which seems squarely aimed at preventing further social mobility. A few years ago, the government had a policy of recruiting ambassadors and staff from suitably capable people of working class background. I don’t know if the policy is ongoing. Somehow I doubt it, given the nature of this government. In theory, as currently ambassadorial staff are part of the civil service, anyone from any background can apply, provided they have the necessary skills and qualifications. In practice, I’ve no doubt most of them come from upper middle class backgrounds and are privately educated. But the ability of working class people to get these jobs will become much harder if they’re handed over to business leaders. A little while ago the newspapers reported that about half of the heads of all businesses had inherited their position. Also, by definition, working people don’t own businesses, though many aspire to have their own small enterprises, like shops or garages. But these posts are very definitely aimed at the heads of big business, and definitely not at the aspiring Arkwrights of these isles.

Hunt’s decision to start recruiting ambassadors from the heads of business will lead to the further corporate dominance of British government and politics, less social mobility for working people, more corruption and conflicts of interests. And Britain continuing to sell military equipment to despotic regimes that don’t need them and which use them to murder civilians in deeply immoral wars. But it’s a Tory idea, so what else can you expect.

George Monbiot on the Supermarkets’ Decimation of the Small Businesses

April 19, 2016

I’ve just started reading George Monbiot’s Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (London: Pan MacMillan 2000), about how our country was taken over politically and economically by the big corporations. One of the chapters, is entitled ‘Economic Cleansing – How the Supermarkets Conquered Britain’. This opens by describing how Brecon’s thriving independent shops and small businesses were decimated when the Parks Authority, which governs the town, decided to back the construction of a new Safeways on the site of the town’s livestock market. Knowing some of the farmers in the area, I found this particularly interesting. The farmers were complaining about how they were being driven out of business by the predatory pricing of the big supermarkets. This is true and still very much an issue for farming communities. And Monbiot gives the stats on how small businesses up and down the country are being ruined by the large supermarkets.

During the 1990s, according to the consultancy Verdict, the number of specialist shops like Brian Keylock’s [a butcher featured in the chapter] fell by 22 per cent in Britain. The smallest ones were hit hardest: between 1990 and 1996, shops with annual sales of less than £100,000 declined by 36 per cent. Between 1986 and 1997, by contrast, superstore numbers rose from 457 to 1,102. While most towns have suffered substantial losses, the impact has been even greater in the countryside: at the end of 1997 the Rural Development Commission revealed that 42 per cent of rural parishes no longer possessed a shop.

This is plainly not due to an overall reduction in trade: between 1992 and 1997 retail food sales in Britain increased by £18.6bn, or 30 per cent. But while small shops lost 8.5 per cent of their trade between 1990 and 1996, large retailers gained 18 per cent. The two trends – of the decline in small independent shops and the expansion of the superstore chains – appear to be linked.

In 1998, the government published the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of superstores ever undertaken. Its findings were unequivocal. Food shops in market towns lost between 13 and 50 per cent of their trade when a supermarket opened at the edge of the town centre or out of town. The result is ‘the closure of some town centre food retailers; increases in vacancy levels; and a general decline in the quality of the environment of the centre … Even where town centre food retailers suffer an impact, but do not subsequently close, there may still be a concern that this will lead to a general decline in activity elsewhere in the centre, and adversely affect the vitality and viability of the centre.’ (p. 169).

A few days ago I signed a petition put up by Adam Bernstein, a small businessman in London, who runs a Jewish deli. Mr Bernstein was concerned at the way businesses like his were being driven out of the capital by the big stores. He wanted the government to appoint a ‘small business czar’ to protect this nation’s Arkwrights. He’s absolutely right. The s-s-small businessmen of the kind shown in the classic TV comedy, Open All Hours, are under threat. Monbiot quotes the retailers in Brecon as saying that there’s a sense of community there that’s been created by them, as people talk when they come into the shop. He’s right, and shows like Open All Hours are undoubtedly popular partly because they do celebrate the sense of community created by such small businesses. Even when they’re run by notoriously mean grotesques like Arkwright, and now his nephew and protégé, Granville. But this is being destroyed for the corporate profits of our politicos’ paymasters. Millions of people across the UK dream of running their own business. For many men, it’s the idea of owning a garage fixing cars and bikes. But this is being taken away from them by a series of governments that have consistently favoured big business, no matter what platitudes they’ve spouted about the value of the small, independent businessman and woman. And Monbiot has supplied the stats to prove it.

Once upon a time, Maggie Thatcher made much about how she was ‘working class’ because her father owned a shop. She wasn’t working class, of course. She was petit bourgeois, lower middle class. And she, and the Conservative administrations after her, including Blair in New Labour, have done neither the working nor lower middle classes any good. As a result, our high streets are dying, our sense of community is being lost, and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, as the businesses that bridge that gulf are being forced into liquidation.

This desperately needs to change. I noticed from Mike’s blog that Labour in Wales are promising tax cuts to the small businessman, and an investment bank for Wales to offer credit to micro, small and medium businesses. These seem to me to be sound policies. But we also need to get the corporate rich out of politics, so the working and lower middle classes aren’t impoverished by Cameron’s and Bliar’s friends in big business.

Gorbachev and the Introduction of Co-operatives in Perestroika

May 7, 2014

Aganbegyan Pic

Abel Aganbegyan, leading economist of Perestroika

One of the ways the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, attempted to reinvigorate the country’s economy was through the establishment and transformation of state industries into workers’ co-operatives. They were also intended to create jobs for workers, who had been made unemployed through Gorby’s other reforms aimed at making the country’s industries more efficient. This started with 1986 Law on Economic Activity, which permitted a very limited amount of private enterprise. The only people permitted to work for themselves, either as self-employed or in co-operatives, were pensioners, students and employees working after hours. The materials they used had to be surplus to those of the state industries. The co-ops were restricted to a list of 29 permitted activities, such as taxi-driving and dress-making. This effectively legalised what many Russians were already doing any way. In March 1988 the restrictions were further lifted, so that the co-ops were allowed to pay staff and do business with foreign nationals. A further law in August 1990 allowed the co-ops near total freedom. By the end of 1990 there were nearly 260,000 co-operatives employing 6.2 million people, including those with other jobs. They produced 70 billion roubles’ worth of goods and services. 10 billion roubles were for the Soviet population. The co-ops were originally envisaged as small firms, but three-fifths of the new enterprises were in the former large state industries.

However, the impact of the co-operatives on the retail market was much smaller. Co-operatively managed garages, home decoration, household repairs, tailoring and dressmaking, catering, small manufacturing and retail only accounted for 2 per cent of the products bought by Russian consumers. Many of the new co-operatives also became more-or-less ordinary capitalist industries by a law which allowed profits to be drawn on investment, rather than the amount of work put in. See ‘Co-operative’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London: Andre Deutsch 1992) pp. 49-50.

Abel Aganbegyan, the Soviet economist and chief architect of perestroika, describes the reasons behind the establishment of the co-operatives and the experiments in setting up the system in his book, The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: Hutchinson 1988) pp. 196-9. He states that they were set up to give Soviet workers a sense of responsibility as co-owners, describes the co-operative’s management system, including the election of brigade officials and directors. There was even a nationwide competition to find the new manager for the Riga car factory, organised by Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the party’s youth group. Describing the election of managers and officials, he writes:

The working collective carries out its functions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but out on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, for example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of action and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise. (pp. 197-8).

He then proceeds to describe the election run by Komsomolskaya Pravda for the ailing Riga Car Factory.

This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to them was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even h7undreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but were competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development for the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, this democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8 % of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. In this was the quality of managers has been improved. pp. 198-9).

apprentice_sir-alan_pink-pigeon

The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar: Now imagine someone in overalls and work boots saying to their boss ‘You’re fired!’

The competition sounds like a radical Socialist version of Top Gear or Dragon’s Den. Certainly it would have been interesting to see Clarkson covering the election by car factory workers of their manager, all the while careering round Moscow or, in this case, Riga, while making sneering comments about the condition of the roads and Soviet era cars. As for Dragon’s Den, it might be a bit too dangerously subversive for the Dragons. After all, it turns the class system on it’s head by empowering the workers to sack incompetent bosses. Which might actually make it perfect as a kind of anti-Apprentice. After all, how many of the more pompous captains of industry, priding themselves on their ability to make ‘tough decisions’ to close down factories and throw thousands out on the streets for their profit and that of the shareholders, would welcome standing in front of committee of proles and being told ‘You’re fired’. Now that really is an idea for a TV show.