Posts Tagged ‘Local Currency’

Regenerating the High Street through National Workshops

January 7, 2019

Last week Tweezer announced her plan to revitalize Britain’s failing high streets. Many of our shops are closing as customers and retailers move onto the internet. City centres are being hit hard as shop fronts are left vacant, inviting further vandalism, and further economic decline as shoppers are put off by empty stores and smashed shop windows. In America, it’s been forecast that half of the country’s malls are due to close in the next few years. Tweezer announced that she was going to try reverse this trend in Britain by allocating government money to local authorities, for which they would have to bid.

I’m suspicious of this scheme, partly because of the way it’s being managed. In my experience, the Conservatives’ policy of forcing local authorities to bid for needed funding is simply another way of stopping some places from getting the money they need under the guise of business practice or democracy or however they want to present it. It’s the same way Thatcher would always delay the date when she’d give local authorities they funding they needed for the next year. It’s a way of disguising the fact that they’re making cuts, or simply not giving the money that’s really needed.

As for how local authorities could regenerate their town centres, I wonder if it could be done through a form of the national workshops suggested by the 19th century French socialist, Louis Blanc. During the Revolution of 1848, Blanc proposed a scheme to provide jobs for France’s unemployed by setting up a series of state-owned workshops. These would be run as co-operatives. The workers would share the profits, a certain proportion of which would be set aside to purchase other businesses. This would eventually lead to the socialization of French industry.

Needless to say, the scheme failed through official hostility. The scheme was adopted, by the state undermined it through giving the unemployed on it pointless and demeaning jobs to do. Like digging ditches for no particular reason. It thus petered out as unemployed workers did their best to avoid the scheme. There’s a kind of parallel there to the way the Conservatives and New Labour tried to stop people going on Jobseeker’s Allowance by making it as degrading and unpleasant as possible, and by the workfare industry. This last provides absolutely no benefit whatsoever to workers on it, but gives cheap labour to the firms participating in the scheme, like the big supermarkets.

The national workshops, on the other hand, were at least intended to provide work and empower France’s working people.

In his Fabian Essay, ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, George Bernard Shaw suggested that Britain could painlessly become a truly socialized economy and society through the gradual extension of municipalization. Town councils would gradually take over more and more parts of the local economy and industry. He pointed to the way the local authorities were already providing lighting, hospitals and other services.

I therefore wonder if it would be better to try to create new businesses in Britain’s town centres by renting the empty shops to groups of workers to run them as cooperatives. They’d share the profits, part of which would be put aside to buy up more businesses, which would also be turned into co-ops.
Already local businesses in many cities have benefited by some radical socialist ideas. In this case, it’s the local currencies, which are based on the number of hours of labour required to produce an article or provide a service, an idea that goes all the way back to anarchist thinkers like Proudhon and Lysander Spooner in the 19th century. These schemes serve to put money back into the local community and businesses.

I realise that this is actually extremely utopian. Local governments are perfectly willing to provide some funding to local co-ops, if they provide an important service. I’ve heard that in Bristol there’s a co-op in Stokes Croft that has been funded by the council because it employs former convicts and drug addicts. However, you can imagine the Tories’ sheer rage, and that of private business and the right-wing press, if a local council tried to put a system of locally owned co-operatives into practice. It would be attacked as ‘loony left’ madness and a threat to proper, privately owned business and jobs.

But it could be what is needed, if only partly, to regenerate our streets: by creating businesses that create jobs and genuinely empower their workers and provide services uniquely tailored to their communities.

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The Post Office, Privatisation and Valueless ‘Work-shares’

July 13, 2013

This is a story that I will need to check, but if it’s true, then the Post Office has committed what would once have been a violation of the Truck Acts, and committed something that could reasonably be construed as fraud.

‘Work Shares’, Local Currency Schemes and 19th century Anarchism

The government this week announced it was moving ahead with its plans to privatise the Post Office. This is scheduled for the autumn. There is going to be major restructuring, but it has stated that its workers will be given shares as part of the privatisation deal. I know a number of people, who work for the Mail that are naturally worried about whether they will still have a job in a few month’s time. A friend yesterday told me, while we were discussing this, ‘At least this time they’ll have real shares’. I queried what they meant by this, and my friend further explained that a little while ago the Mail told its workers that it was now going to pay for their overtime in that period in ‘work shares’. My friend said this wasn’t the correct term, which he couldn’t remember at that moment. The name my friend gave to it suggests that it may have been similar to some of the local currency schemes operating in some parts of the UK. These schemes give you a number of coupons or token for hours worked in particular community projects, which can be exchanged for goods and services, which have involved the same amount of hours worked. It’s an idea that ultimately seems to come from 19th century Anarchism, particularly Proudhon’s Mutualism and Anarcho-Individualism. One of the great American Anarchists of the 19th century used to operate what he called a ‘Time Store’. He used to time how long it took to serve a customer. The actual monetary cost of his wares were low, very close to cost price. However, he would also charge his customers payment in kind equivalent to the time he had taken to serve them. It was a commercially successful system.

It also inspired the classic SF short story, And Then There Were None, in which a party of imperialist Earthmen gradually succumb to the superior social and political system of just such an Anarchist Utopia. The planet they attempt to conquer has just such a libertarian economic and political system. Intrusive questions and attempts to bully the self-reliant farmers, businessmen and workers of the world into giving vital information is simply answered with the word ‘NYOB’: None Of Your Business. The local currency schemes, which such libertarian ideas have inspired, have done a lot of stimulate local economies, as people patronise their local businesses using these currencies. Or they did until Gordon Brown started looking for more things he could tax, and declared that these schemes were also subject to VAT. Unfortunately, according to my friend the Mail used an accounting trick to declare that these ‘work shares’ were valueless, took them back off their workers, and destroyed them.

The result of this is that the Post Office workers were effectively not paid for the overtime they worked.

The Truck System

Now as I said, I don’t know if this is true. If it is, then at one time it would have been a violation of the Truck Acts.

Robson Green gave a succinct summary of the ‘Truck System’ in his TV show, Building the North, on ITV on Wednesday, although he did not call it by name. He remarked how 19th century factory masters had nearly absolute control of their workers’ lives. They were frequently paid in tokens, which could only be used in the company shops. Although he didn’t call it by name, this was the notorious Truck System. It was abolished in the 19th century by the Liberal government, which freed their workers from such commercial exploitation from their employers. I’ve got a feeling that free trade commercial ideology may also have played a part. If the workers’ were free to spend their money how they chose, then not only would this allow them greater choice, it would also encourage greater competition and commercial opportunities as other companies and shops would be free to supply them with whatever they wanted or needed.

Truck Acts Repealed in Favour of Electronic Payment

Unfortunately, the Truck Acts were repealed in the 1980s when the direct payment of wages and salaries into employees’ bank accounts was introduced. My point here is not to criticise that system of payment, but simply to show that it appears to have had the unfortunate consequences of opening the system of payments back up to such morally and commercially dubious arrangements as the ‘work shares’. It looks like something close to the Truck System was being operated by the Mail with these spurious shares. It does not augur well for employee confidence in their promises to provide them with shares as part of the privatisation package.

Unpopularity of Post Office Privatisation

I also have to say that I don’t know anyone personally who has been in favour of the privatisation of the Royal Mail. My next door neighbours were working class Conservatives. They objected to the idea, when it was mooted by Blair’s administration. I don’t think ordinary people like them will be impressed whatever the type of government that introduces it. The same friend, who mentioned the ‘work share’ system also told me that the dangers of privatising this service could be seen in the way the Americans had never privatised it. America has always strongly supported capitalism and free enterprise, at least to a greater extent than the European nations. If the Americans found that privatising the Post Office was unworkable, then it showed that it was really unworkable.