Posts Tagged ‘Local Government’

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Austerity

January 9, 2019

One of the other massively failing right-wing economic policies the Australian economist John Quibbin tackles in his book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010) is expansionary austerity. This is the full name for the theory of economic austerity foisted upon Europeans and Americans since the collapse of the banks in 2008. It’s also the term used to describe the policy generally of cutting government expenditure in order to reduce inflation. Quiggin shows how, whenever this policy was adopted by governments like the American, British, European and Japanese from the 1920s onwards, the result has always been recession, massive unemployment and poverty.

He notes that after the big bank bail-out of 2008, most economists returned to Keynesianism. However, the present system of austerity was introduced in Europe due to need to bail out the big European banks following the economic collapse of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the consequent fall in government tax revenue. Quiggin then goes on to comment on how austerity was then presented to the public as being ultimately beneficial to the public, despite its obvious social injustice, before going on to describe how it was implemented, and its failure. He writes

The injustice of making hospital workers, police, and old age pensioners pay for the crisis, while the bankers who caused it are receiving even bigger bonuses than before, is glaringly obvious. So, just as with trickle-down economics, it was necessary to claim that everyone would be better off in the long run.

It was here that the Zombie idea of expansionary austerity emerged from the grave. Alesina and Ardagna, citing their dubious work from the 1990s, argued that the path to recovery lay in reducing public spending. They attracted the support of central bankers, ratings agencies, and financial markets, all of whom wanted to disclaim responsibility for the crisis they had created and get back to a system where they ruled the roost and profited handsomely as a result.

The shift to austerity was politically convenient for market liberals. Despite the fact that it was their own policies of financial deregulation that had produced the crisis, they used the pretext of austerity to push these policies even further. The Conservative government of David Cameron in Britain has been particularly active in this respect. Cameron has advanced the idea of a “Big Society”, meaning that voluntary groups are expected to take over core functions of the social welfare system. The Big Society has been a failure and has been largely laughed off the stage, but it has not stopped the government from pursuing a radical market liberal agenda, symbolized by measures such as the imposition of minimum income requirements on people seeking immigrant visas for their spouses.

Although the term expansionary austerity has not been much used in the United States, the swing to austerity policies began even earlier than elsewhere. After introducing a substantial, but still inadequate fiscal stimulus early in 2009, the Obama administration withdrew from the economic policy debate, preferring to focus on health policy and wait for the economy to recover.

Meanwhile the Republican Party, and particularly the Tea Party faction that emerged in 2009, embraced the idea, though not the terminology, of expansionary austerity and in particular the claim that reducing government spending is the way to prosperity. In the absence of any effective pushback from the Obama administration, the Tea Party was successful in discrediting Keynesian economic ideas.

Following Republican victories in the 2010 congressional elections, the administration accepted the case for austerity and sought a “grand bargain” with the Republicans. It was only after the Republicans brought the government to the brink of default on its debt in mid-2011 that Obama returned to the economic debate with his proposed American Jobs Act. While rhetorically effective, Obama’s proposals were, predictably, rejected by the Republicans in Congress.

At the state and local government level, austerity policies were in force from the beginning of the crisis. Because they are subject to balanced-budged requirements, state and local governments were forced to respond to declining tax revenues with cuts in expenditure. Initially, they received some support from the stimulus package, but as this source of funding ran out, they were forced to make cuts across the board, including scaling back vital services such as police, schools, and social welfare.

The theory of expansionary austerity has faced the test of experience and has failed. Wherever austerity policies have been applied, recovery from the crisis has been halted. At the end of 2011, the unemployment rate was above 8 percent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the eurozone. In Britain, where the switch from stimulus to austerity began with the election of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in 2010, unemployment rose rapidly to its highest rate in seventeen years. In Europe, the risk of a new recession, or worse, remains severe at the time of writing.

Although the U.S. economy currently shows some superficial signs of recovery, the underlying reality is arguably even worse than it now is in Europe. Unemployment rates have fallen somewhat, but this mainly reflects the fact that millions of workers have given up the search for work altogether. The most important measure of labour market performance, the unemployment-population ration (that is, the proportion of the adult population who have jobs) fell sharply at the beginning of the cris and has never recovered. On the other hand, the forecast for Europe in the future looks even bleaker as the consequences of austerity begins to bite.

The reanimation of expansionary austerity represents zombie economics at its worst. Having failed utterly to deliver the promised benefits, the financial and political elite raised to power by market liberalism has pushed ahead with even greater intensity. In the wake of a crisis caused entirely by financial markets and the central banks and regulators that were supposed to control them, the burden of fixing the problem has been placed on ordinary workers, public services, the old, and the sick.

With their main theoretical claims, such as the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Real Business Cycle in ruins, the advocates of market liberalism have fallen back on long-exploded claims, backed by shoddy research. Yet, in the absence of a coherent alternative, the policy program of expansionary austerity is being implemented, with disastrous results. (pp. 229-32, emphasis mine).

As for Alesina and Ardagna, the two economists responsible for contemporary expansionary austerity, Quiggin shows how their research was seriously flawed, giving some of their biggest factual mistakes and accuracies on pages 225 and 226.

Earlier in the chapter he discusses the reasons why Keynes was ignored in the decades before the Second World War. The British treasury was terrified that adoption of government intervention in some areas would lead to further interventions in others. He also quotes the Polish economist, Michal Kalecki, who stated that market liberals were afraid of Keynsianism because it allowed governments to ignore the financial sector and empowered working people. He writes

Underlying the Treasury’s opposition to fiscal stimulus, however, was a fear, entirely justified in terms of the consequences for market liberal ideology, that a successful interventionist macroeconomic policy would pave the way for intervening in other areas and for the end of the liberal economic order based on the gold standard, unregulated financial markets, and a minimal state.

As the great Polish economist Michal Kalecki observed in 1943, market liberal fear the success of stimulatory fiscal policy more than its failure. If governments can maintain full employment through appropriate macroeconomic policies, they no longer need to worry about “business confidence” and can undertake policies without regard to the fluctuations of the financial markets. Moreover, workers cannot be kept in line if they are confident they can always find a new job. As far as the advocates of austerity are concerned, chronic, or at least periodic, high unemployment is a necessary part of a liberal economic order.

The fears of the Treasury were to be realized in the decades after 1945, when the combination of full employment and Keynsian macro-economic management provided support for the expansion of the welfare state, right control of the financial sector, and extensive government intervention in the economy, which produced the most broadly distributed prosperity of any period in economic history. (p. 14).

So the welfare state is being dismantled, the health service privatized and a high unemployment and mass poverty created simply to maintain the importance and power of the financial sector and private industry, and create a cowed workforce for industry. As an economic theory, austerity is thoroughly discredited, but is maintained as it was not by a right-wing media and political establishment. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said in one of his columns that when he studied economics in the 1970s, monetarism was so discredited that it was regarded as a joke by his lecturers. He then suggested that the reason it was supported and implemented by Thatcher and her successors was simply because it offered a pretext for their real aims: to attack state intervention and the welfare state. It looks like he was right.

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Mike Scoops Private Eye on McVey’s Departure from Government

December 12, 2018

Last fortnight’s issue of Private Eye, for the 30th November – 13th December, carried a story suggesting that Esther McVey’s resignation from the cabinet may have been for reasons other than a concern over Brexit. Instead, the satirical magazine suggested, Iain Duncan Smith’s collaborator in the murder and starvation of the old, homeless, unemployed and disabled was due to her wishing to avoid having to answer questions about whether her department has tried to cover up the stats on the deaths on disabled people. The piece, in the ‘HP Sauce’ column on page 10 ran:

<strong>Esther McVey’s sudden cabinet resignation over Brexit does have a silver lining for the former work and pensions secretary. It means she avoids having to answer tricky questions about whether her erstwhile department tried to cover up links between its controversial “fitness for work” tests and the deaths of benefit claimants.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, and Stephen Lloyd, the Lib Dem’s work and pensions spokesman, wants to establish whether inquest rulings linking the so-called work capability assessment to the deaths of at least two mentally ill claimants were passed to the independent expert tasked with annual reviews of the test. They also want to know whether the results of internal investigations into the deaths of other claimants were passed on.

If they were, they certainly did not feature in Dr Paul Litchfield’s reviews in 2013 and 2014 – and he himself is keeping schtum. A recent Freedom of Information request from Disability News Service also failed to elicit an answer, with the Department for Work and Pensions simply saying it did not hold the information – and it clearly wasn’t prepared to find out.

Let’s see if the two crusading MPs fare any better with McVey’s successor at the DWP, the returning Remainer Amber Rudd, who in her early defence of universal credit looks every bit as evasive as McVey.

This is very much in Mike’s particular sphere of interest over at Vox Political. As a carer, Mike is very concerned about the Tories’ attacks on the disabled and the lethal consequences of their sanctions regime and the Fitness for Work tests. Followers of his blog will recall the struggle Mike had to get the DWP under IDS to release the stats on the number of people, who’d died under their reforms of the benefits system.

On Friday, 23rd November 2018, Mike ran this story speculating that the Minister for the Genocide of the Disabled had resigned because she wanted to avoid being questioned about the number of deaths Tory policies have caused:

Remember when Esther McVey quit the government last week, claiming it was because of Brexit, and I suggested she was running to avoid having to answer the criticisms of the Department for Work and Pensions raised by UN inspector Philip Alston?

It turned out that she had already exchanged words with the special rapporteur on poverty – but now it seems I was not wrong after all, as Ms McVey’s departure allowed her to avoid answering questions on a possible link between the hated Work Capability Assessment carried out by private contractors on behalf of the DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants.

This issue is whether the government showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Dr Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

In the light of recent revelations, it seems reasonable to ask whether this is because he was asked to sign a ‘gagging order’ – a non-disclosure agreement requiring him not to say anything embarrassing or critical about the Conservative government or its minister.

Dr Litchfield published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

Disability News Service raised the issue in July, prompting Opposition spokespeople to send official letters demanding an explanation. Labour shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova’s was written on July 25, and Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd’s followed on August 2.

Neither had received a response by the time Ms McVey walked out, as DNS reported.

I think we can safely conclude that the four-month delay – so far – indicates Ms McVey intended never to respond. The disagreement over Brexit provided a handy excuse to do a runner.

Will Amber Rudd be more forthcoming?

The evidence of her time at the Home Office suggests the opposite.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/23/did-mcvey-quit-the-government-to-avoid-questions-on-disability-deaths-cover-up/

Mike’s report of the affair covered the same points as that in the Eye, but adds details about Dr Litchfield’s reports and speculates that he may not have given details of the numbers of deaths because he had been forced to sign a gagging order, as very many of the charities and other organisations working with Tweezer’s gang of cutthroats have been forced to do.

One of the problems facing modern print journalism is that by the time they’ve put a story into the paper, everyone’s already read about it on the Net. This is the reason why newspapers have increasingly become similar to magazines with celebrities interviews, media stories and articles on subjects that are of interest, but not necessarily particularly topical.

I went back to reading Private Eye after a hiatus, when I was sick and tired of the magazine’s constant attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. This seems to have calmed down recently, but I’ve no doubt that it’s still bubbling away somewhere underneath. It does carry much excellent information on the shabby deals going on behind the scenes, in politics, local government, business and the press, which isn’t reported in the rest of the media. It’s that which still makes the magazine worth reading.

However, the mainstream media has shown to a rapidly increasing number of people that it is deeply biased and untrustworthy. And it has plenty of competitors from the various left-wing news organisations on the web. Like the Disability News Service, the Canary, the Skwawkbox and very many others. Left-wing bloggers and vloggers are also increasingly turning to them, rather than rely on the viciously biased, mendacious British press. Gordon Dimmack announced on one of his videos a few weeks ago that he wasn’t going to rely on the mainstream media for his stories any longer. This was on a video in which he took apart the lies in a story in the Groaniad about Julian Assange.

The British media, including the Beeb, is feeling threatened. Very threatened. A week or so ago the Radio Times published an article lamenting the polarization in political opinion due to people no longer trusting mainstream news sources, and turning instead to others which conformed to their own views. Thus the political consensus was breaking down. They also ran another article celebrating Question Time and its presenter, Dimbleby. Well, the consensus opinion pushed by the media is largely right-wing, pro-Tory and anti-Corbyn, with the Corporation’s news as massively bias as the Tory papers, from whom some of their journos have come. And Question Time has also angered many people, because of this pro-Tory bias and the way it has packed both panels and audience with Tories and Tory supporters.

It’s entirely right that people are turning away from the lamestream media with its bias and lies to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and other news outlets on the web. They aren’t Tory propaganda outlets, and are increasingly getting the stories before the mainstream papers and broadcasters.

And as this article from Private Eye shows, one of those blogs, which is getting the news to people first, before the mainstream press, is Vox Political.

Racism, Colonialism and Asian Paedophile Gangs

October 21, 2018

One of the major news stories this week was the trial in Huddersfield of yet another Asian paedophile gang. From what I gather – I haven’t really followed the story – this was a group of taxi drivers, some of whom were of Pakistani descent, and the case was very similar to the Rotherham and other paedophile gangs. Including the reaction of the authorities to the exploitation of the female victims. The girls – now young women – have said that they have only now come forward because when the abuse was occurring they were not believed. The reporter discussing the case on the Beeb’s News at Six described how the authorities in this and the other cases didn’t act because they were afraid of disrupting ‘community cohesion’. In the case of Rotherham, one of the local authority officials or senior police officers, who could have stopped, stated that they were afraid of it starting riots. As a result, nothing was done for years, and the abuse continued until eventually these thugs were brought to trial.

This issue is delicate, as we’ve seen how the various surviving Nazis and Islamophobes are trying to capitalize on it. The EDL and the racist hooligans of the Football Lads’ Alliance have been goose-stepping up and down, pushing the idea that this is how Islam, and all Muslims, see those outside their faith: inferior beings, whom they can exploit freely without any pang of conscience. I’ve got a feeling that it was this case in particular in Huddersfield that Tommy Robinson was commenting on outside the courthouse when he was arrested and banged up for contempt of court. His followers then declared that it was a free speech issue, and their leader had been unfairly silenced by the pro-Muslim dhimmis of the establishment. It was nothing like that, of course. There are strict regulations covering the reporting of court cases affecting everyone. They’re designed to stop a miscarriage of justice by reporters spreading biased or mistaken information. Robinson violated them, not least with his antics shouting angry questions at the men was they were being taken into court, questions and comments which assumed their guilt. If let unchecked, this could have resulted in them being acquitted or the case collapsing following a motion by their lawyers that the reporting was preventing them from getting a fair trial.

And the Islamophobes of the EDL, FLA, DFLA, and Pegida UK, etc., aren’t interested in protesting against paedophiles per se. There are plenty of cases of the prosecution of Whites for the same offences, at which they haven’t shown their faces. They are only interested in these cases because the perpetrators are Brown, and they can use them to work up hatred against Muslims and the wider Asian community.

And let’s deal with another canard the islamophobes have been repeating about the case: that this shows essential Muslim attitudes towards non-Muslims. If the crew in Huddersfield are like the other Asian grooming gangs, such as Rotherham, then they say absolutely nothing about Islam in this regard. Again, from what I gather, the Rotherham gang were Muslims in name only. They weren’t practicing Muslims and never attended the mosque. Or if they did, it was once in a very, very long time.

But nevertheless, there are racial aspects of this case that do need investigation, discussion and comment. The gangs’ victims were White, and it’s because they were that the issue was ignored. As has been said, the authorities were afraid that if they acted, it would provoke race riots. It’s a gift to the Far Right, who can honestly say that in these cases, the authorities weren’t interested in combating anti-White racism and exploitation. Now I have spoken to Whites, who believe that they have been racially abused and insulted, but that when they tried to raise it with social workers, they were refused help. One man said that the social workers flatly refused to believe him, and said ‘Oh, they’re not like that.’ I’m sure most BAME people aren’t. But some are, just like some Whites. And for a brief moment at the start of this century, round about the time of the Oldham race riots, there was more anti-White racial crime than against Black or Asians. I’m fairly certain that this situation has been reversed following 9/11 and the abuse and violence against Muslims that unleashed, and the immigration crisis.

Paedophiles and those who enslave and sexually exploit children and women exist in all levels of society, and in all colours. The Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches have been rocked through similar scandals with White clergy, whose crimes were also disgustingly covered up and their perpetrators were protected, in order to avoid a scandal. Paedophiles are also manipulative and enter professions where they can prey on the vulnerable, like teaching. Which is why that profession has very strict regulations about dealing with their charges, as well as reporting and dealing with possible incidents of sexual abuse that they may uncover amongst their students and pupils.

But historically, as well as exploiting those of their own race, nations and ethnic groups across the world have also exploited other races. White racists see Blacks as more sexual and promiscuous than Whites and ethnic groups. But this is a prejudice created through the slave trade. White Europeans and Americans trading and travelling in Africa actually reported that Black African women were very chaste, more so than their own people. What altered this image was the sexual exploitation of enslaved women by White men in the plantations of the New World. And where it did not involve rape, it frequently consisted of prostitution, with the White man giving the woman a few coins for her services. Which may also have been unwilling. And some of this sexual exploitation may have been directed against Blacks partly because White women, or at least of those of respectable status, were protected and the chastity jealously guarded. Which is also not an excuse for the men not controlling themselves and raping and exploiting their slaves instead.

And it does look to me like something similar is going on here. That the men in these gangs, like the Whites who sexually exploit Black women, are doing so because they do consider White women less worthy than their own. Yasmin Alibhai-Browne in the Independent and then the I has written many times about anti-White racism amongst BAME communities as well as ordinary White racism. And she has described how some Asians view White women’s sexual freedom with horror, as promiscuity and a lack of ‘respect’. And so I do wonder if the Asian men in these gangs had the same attitude White planters had to their Black slaves: they could abuse them freely, not just because they were in their power, but because they believed their race also to be more promiscuous than their own women, and so their rape and abuse didn’t matter. They were ‘tarts’, and so deserved it.

I am certainly not suggesting that all or most Muslims or Asians in this country approve of or share the attitudes of these Asian rape gangs. Just as I don’t believe that the majority of Whites in this country think that Black women deserve rape or sexual exploitation. But I am saying that these men’s attitude does show a racial as well as sexual contempt for their victims. And that this needs to be recognized and discussed alongside other forms of racism.

I also think there’s an issue with the racial elements of prostitution and sexual exploitation in this country generally that isn’t being discussed, and of which these cases are a part. For example, one Asian commenter on a similar case complained that there was sexual abuse within the Asian community, which was being hushed up. I’ve also heard of White men using the services of Muslim prostitutes. And way back in the 1980s I can remember a Black friend from St. Paul’s here in Bristol complaining that the Black community there had a reputation for prostitution, but the girls themselves were Whites from Hartcliffe.

Racism and racial exploitation has no colour. People of all races can be prejudiced, abusive, violent and exploitative towards others. And this seems to have happened in the case of these Asian grooming gangs, who are not representative of Asian Britain as a whole. And I’m sure that racism is also an element in other forms of rape and sexual exploitation committed and suffered by people of other ethnic groups. And this needs to be recognized, discussed and acted upon. Rather than swept under the carpet and angrily denied in case it cause further racial friction.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 2

November 11, 2017

This is the second part of my article on William McCarthy’s Fabian pamphlet, The Future of Industrial Democracy, published in 1988.

The section on Ideas in chapter 3: Composition and Principles of Representation runs as follows

At this stage all one can do is propose a number of suggestions and options for further consideration by the Movement. I therefore advance the following cockshy in an attempt to start a debate. No doubt it fails to grapple with many of the problems and oversimplifies others. It should be regarded as written with the lightest of pencils. Three ideas come to mind.

First, why not retain the Bullock notion of a universal enabling ballot, to test whether workers in a given firm or establishment wish to exercise their statutory rights to participation? As the Bullock Report recognised unions would retain the right to “trigger” such a ballot in the groups they represented. Well-intentioned employers, in association with recognised unions, could agree to recommend the establishment of such statutory councils; but there would be a need to be a ballot of all workers involved.

Where a majority of workers voting favoured the establishment of participative rights the employer would be under a legal obligation to establish statutory joint councils. The composition of the workers’ side would be broadly defined by statute, as would be their powers and right. Management would be free to decide its own representatives who served on the council, but the statute would specify the obligations of the employee.

Second, why not let worker representatives emerge by means of a universal secret ballot-open to both unionists and non-unionists-with recognised unions enjoying certain prescribed rights of nomination? Here there a considerable number of European examples to choose from. In France and Luxembourg as I understand it, only unions can nominate for the “first round” of elections. If less than 50 per cent of the electorate vote there is a second election and any worker can nominate. In Belgium unions have an exclusive right to nominate “lists” of candidates where they have representative rights; non-unionists may make nominations elsewhere. Alternatively, there are systems where a given number of workers can nominate if unions fail to provide sufficient nominations. In the Netherlands, for example, any thirty workers can nominate in the larger enterprises, if unions fail to do so. In Germany any three workers can put up a candidate. For myself I favour certain limited rights of nomination in cases where unions are recognised. This is the area where the spectre of “company unionism” is most easily perceived and rightly resisted.

Third, why not specify that in areas where unions can demonstrate that they have members but no recognition any “appropriate” union has the right to make nominations? This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous rights.

The section on Legal Framework also says

The best possible combination of nomination and electoral arrangements needs further thought than I can give it as this point. What I believe is that given suitable arrangements it would be possible both to safeguard the position of established unions and create conditions favourable to trade union growth; yet it would not be necessary to insist on a quasi-monopoly of representative rights confined to recognised unions. I suggest that after further debate within the Movement, Labour should propose an enabling statute which provides for joint participation councils in all private firms employing more than 500. The figure of 500 is itself open to debate. But in this way, I estimate it would be possible to show that the intention was to provide participation opportunities for something like 50 per cent of the private sector labour force. A worthwhile beginning to further advance, based on experience and proven worth. Where it was evident that a company employing more than 500 was divided into more than one “establishment” or was composed of a group of companies under the overall control of a “holding company” or its equivalent, power would exist to demand additional joint councils, with rights related to decisions taken at appropriate management levels.

Consideration would need to be given to the creation of a similar framework of rights in appropriate parts of the public sector of employment. So far as I can see there is no good reason why workers in the nationalised industries, national and local government or the NHS should be deprived of statutory rights to participate in management decisions affecting their working lives. No doubt the representation of “management” will pose different problems, the appropriate levels of joint councils will need to be tailor-made to fit different parts of the public sector and there will be different problems of confidentiality. But I doubt if the needs of workers and the benefits to both employers and the public will be found to be all that different.

It will be said that this cockshy for further consideration is superficial, with several critical problems and difficulties left unresolved. Those who like its general drift, but feel fear that the sceptics may have a case, could not do better than look again at some of the less publicised parts of the Bullock Report. One of the more lasting services performed by the Committee of Inquiry was that it set out to explore and overcome almost all the practical objections that could be raised to any form of statutorily based workers’ participation (see Bullock op. cit. chapters 11 and 12).

For this reason its says wise and relevant things about the need to avoid allowing all kinds of exceptions to a participation law, based on the alleged differences that are said to exist in banks, shipping lines, building firms and other parts of the private sector where employers would like to escape the effect of legislation. It also provides a clear account of the problem of “confidentiality” and how best to deal with it. It makes a convincing case for an Industrial Democracy Commission (IDC) to administer and apply the legislation and monitor its effects in an objective and impartial way. (In our case an additional essential task for the IDC would be to decide when multi-level joint councils were justified in the case of a particular firm or group of firms.) Above all, perhaps, it provides a guide through the complexities of company structure-with its spider’s web of holding boards, subsidiary boards, parent companies, inter-locking “subsidiaries” and “intermediate” organisations. It even follows these labyrinth paths into the upper reaches of British and foreign-based multi-nationals.

Of course the Committee’s primary objective in tracing out the lines of corporate responsibility and influence was to decide how to apply its own benchmark of “2,000 or more employees”. After much consideration they decided that this should apply “…to the ultimate holding company of a group which in toto employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, as well as to any individual company which employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, whether or not it is part of a group” (Bullock, op. cit. p. 132).

With appropriate emendation to fit the lower thresholds advanced in this pamphlet the Bullock formula seems to me to provide the essence of the right approach.

It is also important to remember that the legal framework advanced above would its place alongside Labour’s overall programme for extending rights at work-eg the restoration of trade union rights, improved rights of recognition and an expansion of individual rights against employers in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination. All British workers would gain from such a programme and good employers should have nothing to fear.

The proposals should also be seen against the background of the first report of the Labour Party National Executive Committee’s People at Work Policy Review Group, with its emphasis on the need for a new training initiative and action to raise economic efficiency and the quality of life at work.

A legal framework of the kind envisaged here would provide trade unions and trade unionists with unrivalled opportunities. In areas where unions were recognised union representatives would find it easier to service members and influence the decisions of management. In areas where non-unionism is now the norm there would be greater incentives to organise and recruit; it would be easier to demonstrate what unionisation could do and easier to move to a situation in which recognition became a natural development. Of course, unions and their workplace representatives would need to become experts in explaining and using the rights embodied in the new framework. There would be a need for professional and prompt guidance and support in local and national union offices.

Unions should also find it easier to tackle their media image as negative and reactionary forces-opposed to the narrow “consumerism” peddled by the Government and its allies: engaged in a perpetual battle against management-inspired improvements in productivity and efficiency. In time, and before very long, it should be possible to demonstrate the contribution which can be made by the right kind of alliance between management, workers and unions. Benighted market men and women can be relied upon to misunderstand and misrepresent any teething problems and difficulties that arise; but for trade unionists of all sorts and persuasions there will be very little to lose and a great deal to gain.

This article will conclude in Part 3, which will discuss the pamphlet’s last chapter, Summary and Conclusions.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Secret Society Part 2: Description of Episodes

January 16, 2015

In the first part of this post I talked about Duncan Campbell’s 1987 series, Secret Society, which sought to uncover the some of the secrets of the British state. These included programmes on the existence of secret cabinet committees; Margaret Thatcher’s surveillance, harassment and campaign to discredit CND; the establishment of increasing numbers of computer databases holding personal information, and the sale of this information by local government to private companies; the secret treaty with the Americans providing for the creation of a highly authoritarian British state effectively under American military control in the event of a nuclear war; the Association of Chief Police Officers, and its secretive and highly authoritarian structure and dealings with the authorities; the purchase of faulty radar equipment by the British state from private companies; and the Zircon affair, when Campbell’s documentary revealed the existence of a British spy satellite. Below is a fuller description of the contents of the individual episodes I was able to find on the web, and links to them on Youtube.

Part 1: Secret Cabinet Committees, covered the various committees, that were so secret that not even cabinet ministers knew of their existence, nor which of their colleagues sat on them. It also described how Clement Freud attempted to pass a secret government act, which aimed at making government far more open. This was effectively torpedoed and emasculated by Jim Callaghan’s government.

After the fall of Jim Callaghan’s administration following the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher’s government was determined to continue the culture of secrecy. She set up a series of secret government committee to destroy CND. Her tactics included doctoring the findings of a report into the results of a possible Soviet nuclear attack on Britain. As the predictions of the number of cities destroyed was far too high to be acceptable to the British public, Maggie and her ministers and advisers altered them. In their approved version, the Soviet missiles missed many major cities, to destroy empty land in the countryside, like Snowdonia. Eventually the report was scrapped, as the successive political alterations to it made it so unrealistic as to be useless.

Thatcher also set up two societies to tackle CND directly. These consisted of the Campaign for Peace for Freedom, a more or less respectable, open organisation, and the Coalition for Peace through Security. This was a far more sinister organisation, bankrolled by the Conservative America group, the Heritage Foundation. This group specialised in disrupting CND marches and protests. an Anti-CND think tank was established, and members of CND spied on by Michael Heseltine. At the same time, the line between government and political party became blurred. Government civil servants were drawn in to plan Thatcher’s campaign for re-election, against previous protocols that kept the two apart. One example of the way the line between the state and political party was crossed by Thatcher was the involvement of her press manager, Bernard Ingham, in the Westland affair.

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now, described the way confidential information kept by public officials, such as local councils, were now sold to private industry. It covered the emergence of the private databanks, that were responsible for the unsolicited mail now coming everyday through the mailbox. The documentary found that every council, except for Greenwich, had sold the voters’ roll, the list of people on the electoral roll and their address, to private industry. At the time, there were only two of these private databases, CCN and UAPT. These also collected information from other sources, and were involved in debt collection. The documentary expressed concern about the collection and storage of information on people from their birth onwards on computer, and the release of sensitive personal information held by the NHS to other official organisations. It specifically criticised the NHS Central Index as a threat to privacy and freedom.

The Home Office was also busy compiling its own databases. These included one on cars, and a Suspect Index, for use by passport officials identifying politically dangerous or suspect people entering Britain. There were about 10,000 people on it, including the actress and political firebrand Vanessa Redgrave, and the radical politician and civil rights agitator Tariq Ali.

There was pressure on the government to pass legislation guarding against the collection of personal information by the government. This resulted in the Protection of Information Act. Although the government tried to pass this off as its own initiative, it was really due to pressure from the Council of Europe. Britain was threatened with a serious loss of trade with the continent unless we passed legislation protecting us from government spying. The Act was still unsatisfactory in a number of ways. One of the speakers in the documentary states that it basically said that so long as an official department notified the authorities of what they were doing, they could do it. The Inland Revenue, for example, gave personal information to other government departments, including the police. There were also provisions that allowed some official organisation to acquire information illegally, without leaving an official record that they had consulted individual personal records.

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis, covered the secret official obligations to America and its armed forces over here, which would come into effect in the horrific event of a nuclear war. They were based on those drawn up during the Second World War, but went far beyond them. They were drawn up by Peter Harvey and remained highly confidential. The government denied they existed, and they were even secret from parliament. It’s no wonder, as they effectively provided for the military occupation of Britain by the US and the creation of a highly authoritarian government.

If the unthinkable had occurred, the treaty provided for the selective arrest of dissidents and protestors, including the mass internment of pacifists and political opponents. The government would also pass a series of measures to control transport and movement by the public. These were aimed at controlling panicking crowds as well as political dissidents. Refugees were to be kept off the roads, which would be reserved for the armed forces. Whole areas around military bases, some stretching for miles, would be placed under military control. Officially, the British police would retain their primacy in the relationship between British and American forces. In reality, American forces would be used to suppress British dissidents. Civilian government would also leave the ruins of London, to direct events from a secret national centre. The programme gave the estimated numbers of American troops that would enter Britain to fight the war. In its first stage, there would be about 75,000 American troops stationed here. This would rise to 3-400,000. Amongst other resources, holiday ferries would be commandeered to ferry American troops to and from mainland Europe.

The treaty also provided for the requisitioning of important supplies and the imposition of conscript labour. All oil would become national property, including that in private cars, and reserved for official use. Hospitals would also be obliged to treat combat troops, who would take priority over civilians. The treaty was signed in 1973 under Ted Heath. Kenneth Clarke even took steps to identify those with the necessary skills required in wartime, who would be drafted into working and labouring for the government.

Finally, the treaty allowed the establishment of secret courts, and the operation of government without any democratic controls or safeguards.

Britain was not the only country by far that negotiated a treaty like this. A similar agreement was concluded between the Americans and Germany, and by 13 other nations. Unlike Britain, Germany’s treaty with the US was a matter of public record and not a state secret. In fact, Britain out of fifteen nations was unique in keeping the treaty secret.

Episode 4: The Association of Chief Police Officers – ACPO.
ACPO was the highly secretive and very undemocratic organisation for very senior rozzers. One of those speaking on the documentary included its deputy head, the controversial head of Manchester police, James Anderton. ACPO’s governing committee, the Central Conference had links to other organisations, where it kept in contact with civil servants. The Conference’s meetings were extremely secret, even from the Association’s rank and file. The president of the Association was selected by its Policy Committee, and not elected by its members.

The Association was responsible for some of the brutal tactics meted out to the strikers during the Miners’ Strike, particularly at the Battle of Orgreave. The Association produced a manual on riot control, whose tactics were in contravention of home office rules. One example of this was the use of truncheons, which went far beyond what the official guidelines considered acceptable. The Association also set up a National Responding Centre during the Miners’ Strike, which threatened to become the core a national police force, a further contravention of official policy. The NRC was official dismantled, but was then set up again in the guise of Mutual Aid. This raised the spectre of the emergence of a militarised police force, like those in many continental nations. Anderton maintained, however, that the Association did not want the creation of a single national police force, and that the NRC was its alternative to it. The Association was nevertheless politically active, directly lobbying parliament on issues such as the Public Order Bill.

ACPO also developed guidelines for intelligence gathering, under which the constabulary were to collect information, even on members of the public. Police officers were supposed to cultivate informants and sources of information on every street. Reports were compiled not only on criminals, but on ordinary people in the street going about their business. Sixty per cent of those spied on were ordinary people with no criminal convictions. Sometimes people were reported for the most trivial reasons, showing the Conservative political beliefs of the compilers. For example, there was a report on a teenage girl, simply for being pregnant and ‘having shocking pink hair’.

The Association’s authoritarian structure and secrecy was not popular with other parts of the police force. The police authorities, for example, were critical of the domineering power of the Chief Constable.

Part 5: Zircon.

Zircon was the highly secret, multi-million pound British spy satellite. It was so secret that this part of the documentary brought the BBC and its reporter, Duncan Campbell, into direct conflict with the government. Campbell was only able to get official acknowledgement of its existence by catching out the government’s scientific adviser.
Campbell pretended to want to talk about another issue entirely. He then sprang the question on the adviser without warning, who responded with the barely audible gasp of ‘I can’t talk about that’. As a result, the Special Branch raided the headquarters of BBC Scotland, who made the series, and the premises were secured for two years under the Official Secrets Act. Opposition MPs raised questions in the House about the raid, while Malcolm Rifkind denied the government was responsible. Thatcher nevertheless sacked the Beeb’s Director General, Alisdair Milne, because of the incident.

Here are the show’s episodes:

Episode 1: Secret Cabinet Committees
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2wGQfqQBMM

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2hySVTwV7s

Episode 2: We’re All Data Now

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDS3VtzC-yk

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuIasa6CmnY

Episode 3: In Time of Crisis

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIEnrFtoZ-c

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPniRV2IVSk

Episode 4: ACPO

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM975q7ErfU

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVpAoFpPQog

Here’s the BBC report on the Special Branch raid on BBC Scotland after the Zircon programme.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRuH7WPmD90