Posts Tagged ‘Management Boards’

An Argument for Industrial Democracy from the Mars of SF

November 5, 2018

I’m currently reading Blue Mars, the last of a trilogy of books about the future colonization of the Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson. Written in the 1990s, this book and the other two in the series, Red Mars and Green Mars, chronicle the history of humans on Mars from the landing of the First 100 c. 2020, through full-scale colonization and the development of Martian society to the new Martians’ struggle for independence from Earth. In this future, Earth is run by the metanats, a contraction of ‘metanational’. These are the ultimate development of multinational corporations, firms so powerful that they dominate and control whole nations, and are the real power behind the United Nations, which in theory rules Mars.

As the Martians fight off Terran rule, they also fight among themselves. The two main factions are the Reds and the Greens. The Reds are those, who wish to preserve Mars in as close to its pristine, un-terraformed condition as possible. The Greens are those on the other side, who wish to terraform and bring life to the planet. The Martians are also faced with the question about what type of society and economy they wish to create themselves. This question is a part of the other books in the series. One of the characters, Arkady Bogdanov, a Russian radical, is named after a real Russian revolutionary. As it develops, the economy of the free Martians is partly based on gift exchange, rather like the economies of some indigenous societies on Earth. And at a meeting held in the underground chamber of one of the Martian societies – there are a variety of different cultures and societies, reflecting the culture of various ethnic immigrant to Mars and the political orientation of different factions – the free Martians in the second book draw up their tentative plans for the new society they want to create. This includes the socialization of industry.

Near the beginning of Blue Mars, the Martians have chased the Terran forces off the planet, but they remain in control of the asteroid Clarke, the terminus for the space elevator allowing easier space transport between Earth and Mars. The Martians themselves are dangerously divided, and so to begin the unification of their forces against possible invasion, they hold a constitutional congress. In one of the numerous discussions and meetings, the issue of the socialization of industry is revisited. One member, Antar, is firmly against government interference in the economy. He is opposed by Vlad Taneev, a biologist and economist, who argues not just for socialization but for worker’s control.

‘Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?’
‘Yes!’ Antar repeated, looking more and more annoyed.
‘Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their work place? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives’ labour, under duress, to fee rulers who do no real work.’
‘Business leaders work,’ Antar said sharply. ‘And they take the financial risks-‘
‘The so-called risk of the capitalist is merely one of the
privileges of capital.’
‘Management -‘
‘Yes, yes. Don’t interrupt me. Management is a real thing, a technical matter. But it can be controlled by labour just as well by capital. Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past labourers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce. No! The system called capitalist democracy was not really democratic at all. That’s why it was able to turn so quickly into the metanational system, in which democracy grew ever weaker and capitalism every stronger. In which one per cent of the population owned half of the wealth, and five per cent of the population owned ninety-five per cent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.
‘So. We must change. It is time. If self-rule is a fundamental value. If simple justice is a value, then they are values everywhere, including in the work place where we spend so much of our lives. That was what was said in point four of the Dorsa Brevia agreement. It says everyone’s work is their own, and the worth of it cannot be taken away. It says that the various modes of production belong to those who created them, and to the common good of the future generations. It says that the world is something we steward together. That is what it says. And in our years on Mars, we have developed an economic system that can keep all those promises. That has been our work these last fifty years. In the system we have developed, all economic enterprises are to be small co-operatives, owned by their workers and by no one else. They hire their management, or manage themselves. Industry guilds and co-op associations will form the larger structures necessary to regulate trade and the market, share capital, and create credit.’
Antar said scornfully, ‘These are nothing but ideas. It is utopianism and nothing more.’
‘Not at all.’ Again Vlad waved him away. ‘The system is based on models from Terran history, and its various parts have all been tested on both worlds, and have succeeded very well. You don’t know about this partly because you are ignorant, and partly because metanationalism itself steadfastly ignored and denied all alternatives to it. But most of our micro-economy has been in successful operation for centuries in the Mondragon region of Spain. the different parts of the macro-economy have been used in the pseudo-metanat Praxis, in Switzerland, in India’s state of Kerala, in Bhutan, in Bologna, Italy, and in many other places, including the Martian underground itself. These organization were the precursors to our economy, which will be democratic in a way capitalism never even tried to be.
(pp. 146-8).

It’s refreshing to see a Science Fiction character advocate a left-wing economics. Many SF writers, like Robert A. Heinlein, were right-wing. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, about a rebellion on the Moon, contains several discussion in which Heinlein talks about TANSTAAFL – his acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

Praxis is the fictional metanational corporation, which supplies aid to the colonists against the rest of the terrestrial super-corporations. I don’t know about the references to Switzerland, Kerala, Bhutan or Bologna, but the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain certainly exist, and are a significant part of the country’s economy. They were set up by a Spanish priest during Franco’s dictatorship, but managed to escape being closed down as he didn’t recognize such enterprises as socialist.

I don’t know how practical it would be to make all businesses co-operatives, as there are problems of scale. Roughly, the bigger an enterprise is, the more difficult proper industrial democracy becomes. But co-operatives can take over and transform ailing firms, as was shown in Argentina during the last depression there a few years ago, when many factories that were about to be closed were handed over to their workers instead. They managed to turn many of them around so that they started making a profit once again. Since then, most of them have been handed back to their management, however.

But the arguments the Vlad character makes about democracy being a fundamental value that needs to be incorporated into industry is one of that the advocates of industrial democracy and workers’ control, like the Guild Socialists, made. And we do need to give workers far more power in the work place. Jeremy Corbyn has promised this with his pledge to restore workers’ and union rights, and make a third of the directors on corporate boards over a certain size elected by the workers.

If Corbyn’s plans for industrial democracy in Britain become a reality, perhaps Britain really will have a proper economic system for the 21st century, rather than the Tories and Libertarians trying to drag us back to the unfettered capitalism of the 19th.

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Gove Thinks Poor People Eat Junk Food to Get ‘Solace’ in their ‘Difficult Lives’

June 7, 2018

Mike today has put up a piece commenting on articl3e in Mirror Online attacking Michael Gove for yet another utterance showing how completely out of touch he is. The Minister for the Environment, in charge of Britain’s food, has declared that the reason poor people eat unhealthy junk food, is not because healthy food is too expensive. No, it’s because eating unhealthy food makes them feel better. Gove said

“If you have got a difficult life and you have less money, then one of the things that can be a source of comfort, solace and pleasure will be buying and eating and consuming food that is not always going to be best for you in the long term.”

The Mirror article goes to state that critics have been lining up to point out to him the reality of the situation. And Mike comments, after pointing out that this is the man Some Tories want to take over from Tweezer after she’s forced out of Downing Street,

Michael Gove’s comments are typical of the privileged, entitled, out-of-touch toffs who currently hold the UK in a vicelike death-grip.

His words deny a simple fact of life for poorer people – that healthier food is more expensive and they simply cannot afford it, because Tory ‘reforms’ of benefits and wages have put it out of their price range.

He goes further, and says that if Gove really does believe this, then he must be a sad, squalid, blinkered little creep, and ends his article with the statement

This is certainly not the kind of man who could be hailed as a future leader of this – or any – country.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/07/hopelessly-out-of-touch-michael-gove-claims-poor-people-eat-junk-food-to-find-solace-in-their-difficult-lives/

Mike’s exactly right about this, and the way it reflects the received wisdom in the Tory party. And this goes back decades. Way back in the 1990s I used to listen to Joe Queenan’s Postcard from Gotham on Radio 4. This was a programme talking about current events in America, hosted by the American comedian, Joe Queenan, and his guests. On one edition they were discussing the obesity epidemic then beginning to hit America. One of the other voices on the programme was a journo from the Torygraph, who said pretty much exactly what Gove has said: that poor people eat fatty, junk food, like chips, burgers and pizza, to make themselves feel better. This was about 20+ years ago, so it shows how long that attitude has been around in Tory circles.

There’s an element of truth there, in that people do ‘comfort’ eat when they’re low or under stress. But as Mike points out, it isn’t really an explanation for the poor having a bad diet. Low ages and the greater expensive of healthier food is. And there are other factors as well. A few years ago, Jamie Oliver rocked up in Manchester or one of the other northern towns to teach the local people how to cook healthy food. He criticised one mum, who had joined the scheme, for not including many vegetables. This upset her, because she had no choice: there wasn’t a greengrocer near her, and she had only been able to buy from the shops she could reach, which didn’t stock much in the way of greens. And I’m sure this woman isn’t alone. We have seen the decline of local shops since the growth of the big supermarkets. When I was at school the local shops on our estate included a greengrocers and butchers. Now there are very few independent butchers around, and the greengrocers, at least in my neck of Bristol, seem to be similarly disappearing. There was one over on the rank of shops on the neighbouring estate, but they closed last year. If you want vegetables, you have to go to the local supermarket. And this might be difficult for some people.

Another reason why those on low incomes may be more inclined to eat junk food is because they’re quick and convenient. Not only have wages been held down, but working hours, for many people, are very long. Not everyone may have the time to cook a proper meal. And so for the temptation is buy a takeaway instead.

And there are also probably other reasons why Gove doesn’t want to go too far in trying to understand for himself why the poor, or some of them, eat unhealthily. And those reasons may be to do with corporate political funding and the power of the fast food companies. The Tories get much of their money from donations from big business. It’s why they ignore the wishes of their grass roots, to the point where many constituency Tory parties have either closed or are moribund, and concentrate instead on doing what their donors want. And you can tell just how powerful the fast food industry is by some of the adverts that appear on television and on hoardings. If you look at the adverts on TV, amongst the various car and perfume adverts are those for pizzas, KFC and McDonald’s. This advertising costs, though I don’t doubt that if someone suggested it should be banned, as happened with alcohol, the fast food industry would immediately respond with specially commissioned research claiming that they have no effect on how people eat at all. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye revealed in one of its issues just how many Tory MPs were connected to the drinks industry. There were calls to regulate alcohol advertising then. This has succeeded, but it’s only recently that some parts of Britain, like Scotland, have put the price of booze up in order to discourage binge drinking. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a large number of Tory MPs were either on the boards, or getting donations from companies like McDonald’s.

But Gove isn’t about to criticise them, despite the fact that one of McDonald’s salads was actually found to have more fat in it than their burgers. The Tories believe in unregulated capitalism, consumer choice, as repeated ad nauseam by Maggie Thatcher, and that whatever happens to you in the name of free enterprise is your own fault. And so they aren’t going to admit that the reason the poor may not eat as well as they could is because of low wages and long working hours. Indeed, I’m amazed that Gove even admitted that they have ‘difficult’ lives, considering how the poor have been demonised as feckless, ignorant, lazy chavs by both the Tories and New Labour, and particularly by the Daily Heil. They also aren’t going to criticise the supermarkets, which have killed off many community small businesses, because of the way Sainsbury’s and the rest have contributed very handsomely to party coffers. And the last thing they want to do is stop all those valuable donations coming in from the fast food merchants themselves.

So instead of placing the blame on poor working conditions and practices, and changes in retail capitalism, Gove did what the Tories always do: blame the poor. Just as they’ve blamed them for eating badly for decades.

This shows not just how unfit Gove is to succeed May, but how the entire Tory party – and corporate New Labour, when it comes to it – are for government. They don’t have any solutions to the real causes of poverty and obesity, only cod psychology. Get them out. Now.

Thinking Aloud Next Week on the Failure of the Business Schools

May 23, 2018

There’s also a very interesting and provocative edition of the Radio 4 programme, Thinking Aloud, next Wednesday at 4.00 pm. Entitled ‘Shut Down the Business School!’ the blurb for it on p. 127 of the Radio Times says

Laurie Taylor talks to Martin Parker, professor at the Department of Management, Bristol University, who argues that business schools have produced a generation of unreflective managers, primarily interested in their own personal rewards. He makes the case for a radical alternative.

This could be very interesting indeed, as the massive pay rises and additional bonus packages awarded by managers for performance, which is either mediocre or utterly disastrous, shows he has a point. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye had a series in which they charted the performance of various companies after they were taken over by various chairmen, who were rewarded with massive salaries. The companies were all top-performing, or at least, they were at the time these much-vaunted managers were given their jobs. The charts were of these companies’ share values, and they showed the companies’ value dropping catastrophically until these managers then left. Usually with a massive, and massively unmerited goodbye package.

And everywhere there seems to be the same pattern. The ordinary workforce is cut, while the ranks of management expand massively. Wages for the lowest ranks of employees are also frozen, or else are given raises below the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the managers give themselves massive pay rises, uses under the pretext of ‘performance related pay’. Even though the stats often show that the companies are actually performing worse than they were before these managers took over. The BBC is itself a prime example of this bloated, top-heavy management structure, but you find it all over industry. It’s part and parcel of the Zombie economics of Thatcherism, and has been criticised by the economist Ha-Joon Chang, amongst others.

Of course, one solution might be to put workers in the boardroom, and tie management pay to the performance of the company and improvements in pay and conditions for the workers, in line with the company’s growth and profitability. If the company prospers, and their workers benefit from the company’s performance, then the managers receive a pay rise. If they don’t, and the workers have to receive a cut in wages, then the management should also see their wages cut. There’s no way that can be brought in without screams from the rich that this would be a terrible imposition on them, and would prevent the best talent coming to British industry. But as I see no evidence at the moment of there being much talent in the massed ranks of British management except for grotesquely enriching themselves at the expense of their workers, there’s absolutely no reason to take this criticism seriously.

One Eighth of Bristolians Living in ‘Fuel Poverty’

March 2, 2018

‘Points West’, the local BBC news show for the Bristol region had a little report Wednesday night on the number of people in Bristol living in ‘fuel poverty’. This term, they explains, applies to anyone, who pays more than ten per cent of their income in heating costs. And there are 25,000 of them in Bristol. This is one-eighth of the city’s population. This is higher than in the surrounding country districts, but nationally about 11 per cent of the population are hit by it. They programme then interviewed some of the people, who had a choice between heating their homes, or eating.

They also talked to a Tory MP from over the other side of the country, who is trying to introduce legislation to improve matters. This won’t address issues like low wages and benefits, which are the root cause of this. No, he just wants to make sure everyone has proper loft insulation. David Garmston, the interviewer, tried to press him about the problem of low incomes, but he refused to be drawn, merely saying that he thought that Theresa May was concerned about this issue, and returning to his main concern of getting people cheap loft insulation so that everyone has it. And there the interview ended.

1/8 of the population of Bristol, or indeed, anywhere else, in fuel poverty is too many by far. The Tory’s plan for everyone to have state-sponsored loft insulation is a good starting point, but it’s only a starting point, not a solution.

And I don’t believe that Tweezer or any of the other Tories have any interest in the plight of the poor or those on low-incomes. Indeed, Tory policy for the past eight years or so has been solidly based on keeping wages and benefits low. Wages have either been frozen, or when they have been raised, the increase is deliberately set below the level of inflation. Benefits are being cut, and new ways invented all the time to throw the poor and disabled off them.

May and her squad of privileged thugs have promised that they’ll introduce a cap on energy prices, but this will not arrive for several months. Always assuming that it will arrive at all. The Tories have form for broken promises, and this is going to be one of them. I think they only made the promise because the problem of fuel poverty was too great to ignore, and that Corbyn and the Labour party had promised to solve it by renationalising part of the electricity grid. The prospect of any assault on the precious free market and private industry absolutely terrifies them, even when it is absolutely obvious to anyone not blinded by Thatcherite ideology that the free market doesn’t work. And so to stave off the threat of nationalisation, they’ve had to make a few promises of their own to regulate energy prices. Promises that I doubt they have any intention of keeping.

It’s been estimated that if the electricity network had been kept within the state sector, electricity prices would be 10 to 20 per cent cheaper.

This could all come back in Corbyn gets in and nationalises the grid. Which will mean cheaper electricity for consumers, but reduced profits for the energy companies, who donate to the Tory party, on whose boards no doubt many Tory MPs sit, and whose interests the Tories are keen to represent, against the wellbeing of the rest of us.

Don’t believe Tory lies. If you really want to see fuel poverty reduced, vote for Corbyn and the renationalisation of the electricity industry.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s Secrecy over its Board, Labour Anti-Semitism Kangaroo Courts, and the Nazi Vehmgericht

February 24, 2018

The Vehmgerichthofe were secret courts in medieval Germany, whose task was try and execute traitors. They’re supposed to have been revived in Nazi Germany, though I haven’t seen them mentioned in the orthodox works of scholarship on Nazi Germany.

But the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the kangaroo courts established by the Labour Party to try those smeared and libelled as anti-Semitic because they criticised Israel certainly resemble these mythical Nazi courts. The identity of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s management board is kept secret, no doubt to protect them from being sued by their victims. And the identities of those making the complaints and accusations are similarly given pseudonyms.

As for Labour’s own kangaroo courts, Mike’s experience was that it is all held in secret, you are not told what the evidence against you is nor the identity of your accuser, and there are no concrete charges. This is in violation of the principles of British justice, which states that the accused is innocent until found guilty, they must know the identity of their accusers and the evidence against, and not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done, so that the courts are open to the public. Well, these were the principles of British justice, until Tony Blair and then Cameron and Clegg and now Tweezer started setting up secret courts to try those people in cases, where the disclosure of evidence and the identity of their accuser, would threaten national security.

In fact, these go further than the Nazi Volksgerichthofe (Peoples’ Courts), set up to try cases of high treason. The jury was composed of members of the Nazi party and president over by Roland Freisler. But despite the secrecy of the proceedings, everyone knew Freisler’s identity. And the rigged jury in these courts certainly resembles the very rigged courts in the Labour Party to settle allegations of anti-Semitism, which had obviously already decided that Mike was guilty, despite his strong refutation of the accusation.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement are Fascist organisations. Get them out of mainstream politics, and back in the gutter with their friends in the Islamophobic far right.

Head of Jewish Labour Movement Conned Jewish Charities Out of Tens of Thousands of Pounds

February 9, 2018

The Yiddish word for thief is goniff. And this is richly ironic, considering how the Jewish Labour Movement has smeared innocent, decent people as anti-Semites, simply because they criticise Israel. I think a touch of schadenfreude, the delight in the troubles of others, is well deserved here.

Yesterday, Mike put up a post commenting and reporting on a story in the Jewish Chronicle that Jeremy Newmark, the head of the Jewish Labour Movement, appears to be guilty of fraud. An internal audit of his management of the Jewish leadership Council when he was chief executive has revealed that he deceived that organisation, and the Jewish charity Chabad, of tens of thousands of pounds.

Newmark stood as the Labour candidate in the last election for the Finchley and Golders Green ward, which he narrowly lost. However, the trustees of the JLC, which includes the now chief executive of the Tory party, Sir Mick Davis, decided to hush up the report and not inform the police in order to avoid a scandal. Newmark left the charity in 2013, and the trustees kept the report into his embezzlement suppressed for the past five years.

Mike in his article makes the point that it seems from this he was right to refuse to go to a training weekend organised by Newmark’s band of merry libellers. He also wonders if the trustees’ decision means that they too were also complicit in his crimes. He naturally also raises the question of what the Jewish Leadership Council and Chabad think of all this. And then there’s the question why Newmark was allowed to become a Labour candidate, when his boss was a prominent Conservative.

In addition to all this, Newmark perjured himself at a meeting of an employment tribunal, and there’s the issue of £3,000 taxi fare to be sorted.

Mike concludes that

All in all, Mr Newmark seems an extremely shifty character, doesn’t he?</strong>

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/02/08/jewish-labour-movement-leader-is-a-fraud-it-seems-what-will-the-labour-party-do-with-him/

Well yes, although Newmark refuses to accept any guilt. No, there was no wrongdoing involved. He just left the charity because he was ill with diabetes. This always seems to be the answer of politicians and businessmen when they’re caught with their hands in the till or committing some other serious wrongdoing. No, there’s absolutely nothing to see here. No crime has been committed, and the management board or the Prime Minister has absolute confidence in them. Then you find that a couple of days later that they’ve resigned at the request of the very same management board or prime minister, who they claimed was so confidently backing them.

Newmark certainly comes across here as the type of shady character, who used to beat up other pupils at school for their dinner money. And given his light fingers, I doubt many people would want him dealing with any money in whatever organisation he decided to become part of.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at Newmark’s crimes. The Labour party organisation of which he’s the head, the Jewish Labour Movement, is a nasty outfit that uses underhand tactics to smear decent people, who have fought anti-Semitism and racism all their lives, of anti-Semitism. Remember how they smeared Jackie Walker last year at the Holocaust Memorial Training Day. This was supposed to be a ‘safe space’ where those involved could air issues in secret, without fear of criticism or abuse. Walker, the daughter of a Jewish Russian father and Black American mother, who met on a civil rights march, was smeared because she dared to say that she did not accept their definition of anti-Semitism. This is a very convoluted piece that includes as anti-Semitic criticism of Israel. In fact, as Mike has pointed out, criticism of Israel is immaterial to anti-Semitism. It simply means hatred of Jews simply for being Jews. This is how Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the Bund der Antisemiten in Germany, who coined the term defined it in the late 19th century.

But because Walker disagreed with their definition, and is a critic of Israel and its brutal ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, they recorded her comments and then made them public in order to smear her as something she clearly isn’t. Walker is half-Jewish by descent, and Jewish by religion. Her partner is Jewish, and her daughter attends a Jewish school. It is a gross libel to call her an anti-Semite, just as it is smear Mike and so many others.

As a result, Walker has been subject to horrendous abuse, including comments from Jews that would certainly be classed as anti-Semitic if they were made by gentiles. She has been sent hate messages from people saying that they wish she had been killed in the gas chambers during the Holocaust. As has Tony Greenstein, that other long-time Jewish critic of Israel and anti-racist, anti-Fascist activist.

The Russian proverb has it that a fish rots from the neck down. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the deceitful, libellous conduct of the Jewish Labour Movement if its leader is an unconvicted fraudster. It may thus be a good opportunity to investigate his running of this vile organisation, to see if he has similarly mismanaged it and embezzled it of monies. Quite apart from its policy of smearing thoroughly decent people for purely political reasons.

And it may also be time to ask very serious questions about that other libellous Zionist organisation, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. They are also guilty of libelling decent anti-racists, including Mike. They are utterly unscrupulous in their conduct. The organisation purports to be a charity, but seven of its eleven patrons are members of the Tory party. A glance at the contents of their website shows that it has done comparatively little to tackle anti-Semitism in the Tories, or has done much to combat the real, frightening anti-Semites in the Nazi fringe. Like the viciously anti-Semitic banned terror group, National Action, who do believe the stupid, murderous lies about a Jewish conspiracy to enslave and destroy the White race, and whose literature boasts about and advocates the Jewish peoples’ wholesale murder.

Instead, most of it is criticism and smears of Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

The Campaign is nothing less than a political pressure, and as such is very definitely not entitled to charitable status. There is therefore a petition and other moves to have this revoked.

These people have the same morals as Newmark and his gang in the Jewish Labour Movement. So we are entitled to ask if they share their same contempt for the law, and are stealing money from their supporters and funders.

More Workers’ Rights: Another Set of Promises May Has No Intention of Keeping

February 7, 2018

It was reported in the I today that May has promised to increased workers’ rights, and give them greater protection at work in order to combat the harm done by the ‘gig economy’.

Well, I’ll believe that when I see it. Tweezer has form when it comes to making vaguely left-wing or pro-worker promises, only to go back on them once she’s safely installed. The one that particularly springs to mind was when she promised that she would put workers on the management boards in industry. That was one of her election promises last year. And lo and behold, after she won the election, it was quietly shelved, with Tweezer making excuses like ‘the time wasn’t right’ or some other such nonsense. And she’s carried on making promises like this, only to break them.

The Tories are inveterate liars, and so I guess we shouldn’t expect anything less from May. She’s coming under attack from her own party, and particularly from a group of rebels that have gathered around Young Master Jacob Rees-Mogg. Despite all her protests to the contrary, her negotiations with the EU over Brexit are an appalling mess, that has done precious little for this country and its economic future. And she, and the rest of the country, knows it.

It also shows how terrified she is of Jeremy Corbyn. For all the sneers about him, and the loud smears against Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum as Communists, Trotskyites and anti-Semites, this shows that the Tories and the corporate masters are really frightened by the fact that Corbyn is gaining in popularity. I think he now may be even more popular than the formerly ‘strong and stable’ May. Hence the lies and smears against him and his supporters.

This latest promise to protect workers from job insecurity is another pack of lies, designed to deceive working people into voting for a party that has been instrumental in setting up the ‘gig economy’ and destroying any kind of job security. Once May is secure in her position once more, you can bet that she’ll go back on it, arguing for the importance of having a flexible workforce and fluid labour market. And all the other neoliberal rubbish we’ve heard since Maggie Thatcher, John Major, Blair and Cameron.

The only guarantee of getting real rights for workers is to vote for Corbyn.

Virgin Trains Bans the Daily Mail – Right-Wing Heads Explode!

January 15, 2018

Last week Virgin Trains announced that at least on one of the lines they operated, they would no longer carry the Daily Mail due to customer complaints. Immediately the Mail and its legions of followers started frothing at the mouth and complaining of censorship. But they don’t really have any basis for complaint, as the ban by Virgin is part of the very capitalism and privatisation that their heroine, Maggie Thatcher, promoted.

As a private firm, Virgin is under no obligation to anyone except to turn a profit for its shareholders and bloated paychecks for its board members. Thatcher deluded herself into believing that privatisation would lead to better services, due to the action of market forces and competition. But this didn’t happen. We’re paying more now in subsidies, for a worse service, than we did under British rail. But this hasn’t bother the Tories, whose ideological commitment is for private industry to run everything, even when this would produce a manifestly worse service, as it would if and when they decide to go all out and privatise the Health Service completely.

But as a private firm, ‘Beardie’ Branson can do whatever he likes with it. It’s his property. And so, by the nature of property rights, the Tories can’t argue against what he’s done. It is censorship, yes, but it hasn’t been done by the state. It’s been done by a private individual, whose right to do what he likes with his property has always been regarded by the Tories and the Republicans in America as absolutely inviolable. Branson is free to decide whatever magazines his trains will, or will not carry, in the same way that newsagents can decide which papers to stock. Way back in the 1980s I tried to order the English version of Pravda, which was then coming out, from my local newsagents in my part of Bristol. No such luck. I was told that Bristol had been divided up between the two national distributors. One operated to supply the newsagents in one half, while the other operated in my area. And the distributor that supplied the newsagents in my area wouldn’t carry it. So I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. Private enterprise had decided that where I was, I couldn’t obtain Pravda. Just as Branson has now decided that the Heil will be unavailable on his trains.

Yes, the decision makes a mockery of Thatcher’s constant mantra that privatisation and private industry would bring more ‘choice’. It hasn’t. But this has been the result of privatisation generally. People have been left with a plethora of companies, all actually providing a worse service than when the utilities were nationalised, and for many people choice is actually an illusion. It doesn’t matter who you go to, you’re still paying very large amounts for services that arguably aren’t worth it. If you want an example, think of the privatised dentists. Thanks to Thatcher’s decimation of the dental service back in the 1980s, there are now few dentists taking NHS patients. The dentists that have gone private charge fees that, for many, make going to them unaffordable. Yes, you can change dentists, looking around for a cheaper service, but unless you find an NHS dentist, you’re still going to be charge very high fees. So from that perspective, you don’t have a choice. And the same applies to the railways and other public services taken over by private contractors.

Secondly, Branson was responding to ‘market forces’. This was the other buzzword of the Thatcherites. The operation of the market was held to be good, just and a guarantee of commercial efficiency and success. Capitalism won over socialism, because socialism took no account of market forces. There’s some truth in that when it’s applied to completely socialised economies such as those of the Communist bloc. But as we’ve seen, various capitalist firms have since failed, and then had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. If you just have market forces as your guide, then these firms, which now include Carillion, should be allowed to go under because of their failure to respond to what the market wants. But instead the right demands that we bail them out, because it’s private enterprise and so can’t be allowed to fail. It’s why the corporatist capitalism ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher has been called ‘socialism for the rich’, as the state is always required to support them, while denying welfare services and healthcare to those genuinely in need.

As for Branson’s ban on the Heil, he was responding to market forces. People had complained about the Heil, and as the service provider, he responded to what his customers wanted. The Mail, which has vociferously and consistently fallen over itself praising Thatcher to the rafters, cannot complain. Thatcher stood for market forces, and market forces have dictated that Virgin’s customers don’t want the Daily Mail. So it’s just too bad for them that Virgin trains will no longer be carrying it. There’s also an element of hypocrisy here. If Virgin had said that they wouldn’t carry what remains of the left-wing press in Britain – the Mirror, the Groaniad or the I, the right-wing press, including the Heil, would be delighted. This shows that the great British public despise the left and its journalism, they would announce proudly. But now that the great British public, or at least that section of it that travels by train, have decided that they don’t want the Mail and its hate and bigotry travelling with them, the Tory press has been screaming ‘censorship’.

Yes, Virgin’s ban on the Daily Mail is censorship, but it’s been done because of the nature of capitalism, Thatcherite ‘choice’ and ‘market forces’. Except that in this case, they haven’t acted to empower the right, but attack it.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

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.