Posts Tagged ‘Management’

Cummings Creates Civil Service to Take Over from Private Consultants, Who Took Over from Civil Service

November 8, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece about Dominic Cummings’ reinvention of the wheel. Presumably he did so after he received an important report from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious. Boris Johnson’s pet polecat, or the distinguished advisor from Epsilon 6, as Spitting Image portrays him, has finally woken up to the fact that the legions of private consultants they brought in to do the work of the civil service, is too expensive and simply isn’t as good as civil servants. So he has created a new official department, called the Crown Consultancy. As an example of the exorbitant cost involved, Mike quotes the figures for the amount the Tories spent between 2016 and this year on just eight private consultancies – which include the usual rip-off merchants like KPMG, Deloitte and McKinsey. It’s £2.6 billion. The work obviously should have been left to the civil service, who, like other state departments, should have been properly funded with an appropriate level of staffing. Instead of being cut to pieces because the Tories don’t trust experts.

The fact that civil servants are far more efficient than private sector consultants should hardly be a revelation, no matter how new it may seem to Tories and other fans of outsourcing. It’s been known for over a decade and a half. William Blum, a long-time opponent of American imperialism and capitalism, has this little snippet in his 2014 book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (London: Zed Books).

A study of 17,595 federal government jobs by the Office of Management and Budget in 2004 concluded that civil servants could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 per cent of the time in job competitions. (p. 257).

Privatisation and outsourcing doesn’t work, and the evidence has been staring everyone in the face for decades. But the decrepit, rotting facade of Thatcherism is propped up because it enriches big business, who in turn line the pockets of the Tories and Blairite Labour with corporate donations, as well as giving them seats on their boards.

While giving poor service, poverty and starvation to everyone else.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/11/07/reinventing-the-wheel-after-replacing-civil-servants-with-expensive-private-consultants-cummings-wants-to-replace-them-with-a-civil-service/

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.

Lenin’s Decree on Workers’ Control in the Russian Revolution

September 23, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) also contains the text of Lenin’s decree establishing workers’ control in businesses throughout the Russian empire. This ran

  1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Worker’s Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend over the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of any enterprises.
  2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organisations such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.
  3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’), S(oldiers’)and P(easants’) D(eputies), must be composed of representatives of trade unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ cooperatives.
  4. ….
  5. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.
  6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. the owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.
  7. The rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control. (pp. 69-70).

Daniels’ explains that this idea had the support of most of the Russian workers at the time, some of whom were already putting it into practise by force. Sergei Eisenstein shows workers taking over the factories and throwing the bosses out the gates in wheelbarrows in his classic piece of Communist propaganda, October. Lenin initially supported, but later overturned it and restored the authority of the factory management despite Bolshevik opposition. The reason for it is that it simply didn’t work. Lenin genuinely believed that poorly educated workers would have no trouble running a business, but commonsense simply tells you it isn’t true.

However, workers’ control is an inspiring idea. It continued in Yugoslavia as part of their self-management system, and there are ways in which it certainly could be made to work. One obvious way is to train the worker managers up to a level where they can make informed decisions before they start. Another is through the unions providing them with expert advisers on their behalf. These are just ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure that the people who have really tried it in practice through running cooperatives and have served as trade union officials and shop stewards in negotiations with management have better from their own experience.

We desperately need an element of workers’ control and industrial democracy, if not a full-blown representative chamber for working people in parliament. Working people have seen their rights at worker devastated through forty years of Thatcherism. One of the reasons the Tories have been able to enforce their wages freezes, introduce job precarity, zero hours contracts and the gig economy is that they’ve also destroyed the unions through grossly restrictive legislation. And they’re set to make it worse after Brexit, when they will get rid of all the minimum rights workers’ have under the EU’s Social Charter. Which they’ve been wanting to do for nearly forty years, again since Thatcher.

You don’t have to be as radical as Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But we do need a return of strong trade unions, workers’ representation in the boardroom and a Labour Party that actually stands up for working people.

Posted Copies of Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ to Labour Party

September 18, 2020

This afternoon I posted two copies of my self-published book, For A Workers’ Chamber, off to the Labour Party with appropriate covering letters. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the book argues that as parliament is now dominated by the millionaire heads and senior executives of big business, the working class has been excluded. It therefore needs a separate parliamentary chamber, composed of working people, elected by working people, to represent them.

I’ve also explained in the covering letters that it draws on arguments for such working class assemblies going as far back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trades Union, the Chartists’ parliament of trades and the Guild Socialist strand within the early Labour party. I also state that it also draws on the post-war corporatist system in Britain, in which economic and industrial affairs were decided through negotiations and organisations that brought together government, industry and trade unionists. It also discusses too the producers’ chambers, which formed part of the governmental system of Tito’s Yugoslavia under the workers’ self-management system.

I have also said in the letter that the domination of parliament by employers supports the Marxist argument that the state is the instrument of class rule. Sidney and Beatrice Webb also felt that the parliamentary system could not cope with the demands of the expansion of parliamentary business into the social and economic spheres, and so recommended the establishment of a social parliament as well as a political parliament in their 1920 book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. Another Fabian, Herman Finer, also recommended that Britain should copy the industrial chamber the Germans had set up, which contained representatives of industry and the trade unions to decide questions of industry.

We already have part of that through parliament’s domination by industrialists. We just need to include the working class. Of course, this could also be corrected if the Labour party turns away from the disastrous policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which have done so much to ruin our country and impoverish its people. We need a Labour party that properly supports its traditional policies – a strong welfare state and unions able to defend working people, a properly funded and nationalised NHS and public utilities, run for the benefit of the community and not private profit, and a mixed economy. But there is a real danger that the Labour party is returning to the failed policies of Thatcherism. If that is the case, then the working class needs its own parliamentary chamber to defend its interests.

The Labour Party is holding a national policy review and has asked for suggestions by email. So I’ve sent them my book and its suggestions instead to the party’s National Policy Commission. I’ve also sent a copy to Richard Burgon in appreciation of his great efforts on behalf of the Labour left and the Labour Grassroots Alliance in supporting traditional Labour party policies and working people.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply. Given the rabidly right-wing politics of the Blairite Labour party bureaucracy I have wondered if I might find myself smeared and accused of being a Trotskyite or Communist infiltrator or other slur after sending a copy of my book to the National Policy Commission. After all, they suspended and smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier simply because he had the temerity to send them a document defending Ken Livingstone against the charges of anti-Semitism they had leveled against him. I hope nothing like that happens to me, but I’m still left wondering.

Just Who Is Responsible for the Tory Downgrading Algorithm?

August 17, 2020

Mike and Zelo Street have both put up excellent articles tearing apart the Tories in England for their massive class bias and signal incompetence over the ‘A’ level exam results. Yeah, Boris and his cabinet of grotesquely overprivileged ex-public school boys and girls are now doing a screeching U-turn, but this in response to the massive public outcry and dissatisfaction from their own benches. The public is getting the message that the Tories hate everyone below the centre middle classes. The Tories really  believe that the best opportunities and places right across society from industrial management, the arts, education and science, housing, healthcare, leisure and just about anything else they can get their hands on should go to the wealthy children of the upper and upper middle classes. The people, who have received exorbitantly expensive private educations at the elite schools. The same people, who, non-coincidentally, supply a good few of the Blairite MPs in the Labour Party and the Blairites and Liberals, who attacked Corbyn’s Labour Party in what passes for the left-wing press, most notably the Groan, Absurder, and the I. The lower orders – the working and lower middle classes – are there to work in the manual trades and in the lower grade office work. But despite all the loud Tory braying about creating a classless England, a meritocracy where anyone can rise from the humblest origins through talent and hard work, the reality is that the Tories are staunchly behind the traditional British class system.

Owen Jones has a very revealing anecdote about how naked this class hatred is behind closed doors. In his book Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, he describes how an unnamed Tory MP, speaking at a university Tory gathering behind closed doors, told his audience, ‘This is class war. And we started it.’ And in the 1990s Private Eye supplied further evidence in their literary reviews. One of these was in Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which consisted of a set of interviews with old Etonians. The anonymous reviewer was not impressed, describing just how smug, complacent and self-satisfied they were. One of the interviewees was an Anglican bishop, who confessed to only having respect for other old Etonians. He said that if he found out someone didn’t go to the old school, he felt that it somehow counted against them in some obscure fashion. The Eye’s reviewer wasn’t remotely surprised, and made it clear that they thought that attitude really counted against old Etonians and their school. I don’t think the bias is necessarily conscious either. It’s just there in their whole upbringing, which they imbibe with their mothers’ milk and the very air they breathe.

And because education is one of the keys to social success, the Tories have been keen to use it as a political football and find whatever way they can to stop children from working and lower middle class backgrounds challenging them. There has been survey after survey that has shown that the education ordinary children receive in state schools is actually broader and better, and that they actually outperform their social superiors at university. I’ve remember the results of such studies appearing from the 1990s. But a decade earlier, there were rumblings from the Tories about bring back the 11 +. You remember, the old exam that went out with the comprehensive schools. The one everyone took when they were 11, and which immediately decided whether they went to a grammar school to receive an academic education, or went instead to the secondary moderns to learn a trade. It was scrapped, along with the grammar schools, because it heavily discriminated against working people. They were largely sent to the secondary moderns while the more privileged children of middle class homes got into the grammar schools.

The Tory algorithm looks very much like a similar device, just done through the backdoor. Because in meritocratic, Thatcherite Britain, we’re all supposed to be classless ‘One Nation’ Tories. Well, as Rab C. Nesbitt could remark, they’ve certainly done their job. ‘Cause to paraphrase the great guerrilla philosopher of the underclass, there’s no class in this country any more.

Gavin Williamson is rightly receiving stick for this debacle, and angry parents, teachers and students, not to mention some Tories, are demanding his job. But Zelo Street this evening has asked Carole Cadwalladr’s further question, equally important: who was responsible for the creation of this computer programme in the first place?

He writes

After James Doleman made the obvious point – that Nicola Sturgeon’s swift admission looks better with each passing day, especially as Bozo tried to get away with it, only to be forced to back down – there was only one more question, and that is, as Carole Cadwalladr put it, “Does anyone know who built the algorithm?” Don’t all shout at once.

Because whoever has their paw prints on that part of the fiasco should have some explaining to do, but in a Government where nobody resigns, there won’t be any. But there will be the distinct impression that someone has sanctioned yet another waste of taxpayer funds on a gizmo that caused rather more problems than it solved.

It’s a good question. Zelo Street himself suggests that it might be someone not unconnected to the poisonous Cummings. Well, he is a Social Darwinist, who was prepared to  let the country’s elderly die from the Coronavirus just in order to save the economy. But you also wonder if the company responsible for the algorithm also was connected to the Tories. They’ve had form in giving government contracts to their pet firms, whose management either includes members of the party, or which donates to them. And who have massively failed in their responsibilities. Like the private company that was supposed to take over from the state the provision of PPE to our brave, dedicated and caring medical professionals. Or what about the ‘world-beating’ test and trace programme, which is now being drastically scaled back because it, like the government that commissioned it, isn’t really fit for purpose.

Or is it one of the delightful private companies to which the government have been outsourcing services that should be provided by the state. Companies like Serco, G4S, Maximus, Capita and all the rest that have been delivering failure and rubbish for over thirty years, ever since they were invited in by the Tories in the late ’80s or early ’90s. At one time there was at least one article every fortnight in Private Eye about this clowns. Capita were so incompetent that the Eye awarded them the nickname ‘Crapita’. They started off with contracts to provide IT services, which were just about always behind schedule, over budget and sometimes so dire that they had to be scrapped. But for some reason they failed upwards, and were immediately given more contracts. And the outsourcing companies have gone on to dig themselves further into the infrastructure of government, with worse results. Like ATOS and Maximus manufacturing reasons to throw genuinely disabled people off the benefits they so desperately need, because the Tories and Tony Blair have decided that a certain percentage must be malingerers. The rioting against appalling conditions in our wonderful, privately run prisons and detention centres for asylum seekers. G4S in the ’90s managed to make themselves a laughing stock when a consignment of prisoners they were escorting to trial broke out and escaped. Are these same companies – or  one similar – also responsible for this unjust, odious algorithm?

Zelo Street doubts we’ll ever know the answer. He’s probably right. The Tories are very keen to protect their failures, and would probably argue that the information is too professionally sensitive to be divulged. Just like they’ve done with other private companies involved in government business, like all the private healthcare providers angling for NHS contracts.

This isn’t good enough. Williamson should go, and the company behind the algorithm should be named, shamed and its contract cancelled.

But I very much doubt that the Tories will take that step. Just remember the old saying

‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

To which you could add that there are also a fair number of the morally parentless on the Tory benches.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/benevolent-bozos-badly-bungled-u-turn.html

From C. 1998: ‘Firms Profit From a Happy Workforce’

July 18, 2020

I used to collect news clipping of anything interesting, usually about history, politics, art and the paranormal. I stopped years ago as they were starting to take up too much space, but I’ve still got scrapbooks full of them. I was going through a few of them last night, and I found some very interesting old news stories that are still very relevant today.

I don’t have a precise date or know which newspaper this article was published in, but the articles around it come from 1998 and many of them are from the Fail, so I would hazard a guess that’s where it came from. The article’s a demolition of the ‘macho management’ style favoured in the 1980s, when the boss would start the date by haranguing and humiliating his staff. The article shows that not only does this not work, it actually reduces profitability. The clip runs

Ranting bosses who leave their workers feeling resentful are literally costing their companies money, new research shows.

A team from Sheffield University established a direct link between profitability and happiness after questioning 5,000 employees at 42 British manufacturing firms.

They found that companies which were performing best were those which avoided aggressive management styles, made sure their staff were never bored and allowed them to feel they had a stake in the firm’s performance.

Research leader Malcolm Patterson said: “It appears that a happy workforce is a more productive workforce. It is a simple message to bosses, but backed up with hard evidence.”

My guess is that research today would also show that firms that have good working conditions and high pay are also more productive than low wage, exploitative sweatshops. And I’ve no doubt that one of the reasons British productivity has actually fallen is because people are generally more miserable because of low wages, long hours, job insecurity and the lack of a proper welfare state.

But these are all things that the Tories and the captains of industry hate and despise as attacks on their profitability and status, so they will continue making employment as harsh and exploitative as they can get away with.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Murdoch Hacks Now Begging People to Buy Papers

April 7, 2020

Okay, no sooner had I put up my piece earlier today arguing that the reason the Scum’s journo, Trevor Kavanagh, wanted the lockdown lifted was because it was causing Murdoch’s papers to lose money, then confirmation of a sort came. Zelo Street had put up a piece reporting that various hacks from the Scum and the Times had written pieces begging people to #buyapaper. They included the Scum’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, Jack Blackburn of the Thunderer, Mark Lawton, another Times hack, the Scum on Sunday’s political editor, David Wooding, Sathnam Sangera, Matt Chorley, Martyn Ziegler, all of the Times, and the Scum’s Ryan Sabey and Dan Wootton. They said that the press was in trouble, but journalists, production staff, printers and distributors were all working hard during the crisis to bring us all trusted information, not myths. We would all miss the papers if they vanished. That included the local papers, whom they condescended to mention were also experiencing problems.

Zelo Street commented at the end of this litany that in times like these, people realised what was essential and what was not. ‘A daily paper is rapidly falling into the latter category, especially when, unlike the claims of the Murdoch goons, it is bringing not trusted stories, but an incessant diet of bigotry, hatred, political propaganda, and worthless and uninformed punditry.

Our free and fearless press is bottom of the European trust league. The Murdoch titles play their full part in that ranking. Karma can be a beast sometimes.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/murdoch-goons-pass-begging-bowl.html

This is correct. I think Zelo Street, or perhaps one of the other left-wing blogs, has put up the stats for the most trusted, and trustworthy, papers in Europe. And they don’t include Britain’s. Murdoch’s own papers have been leading the decline in quality in the British press since he acquired the Herald in 1969 or thereabouts, and turned it from a quality socialist paper into a Tory propaganda rag. Murdoch’s journalistic standards were so low that his staff in New York and Australia went on strike against the way his direction for their journals had turned them into a laughing stock. But Murdoch ploughed on, and the malign influence he exerted through his press and media empire has contributed to Britain becoming a spiteful, hateful place for ethnic minorities, the disabled, and the unemployed, low paid and other folks on welfare. Murdoch’s not alone by any means. The Heil, Depress, and Torygraph have all played their part. But the Scum has become proverbial for its gutter journalism.

This country does have some very good journalists – Mike is one, obviously. But its newspapers are disgusting. Many of them are effectively kept running by unpaid interns and freelance staff, whom they try to find every means they can not to pay. According to the Eye, the worst newspaper for using interns was the Groaniad. Meanwhile, the name hacks get salaries in the tens of thousands, and the proprietors and board all give themselves very handsome salaries and bonuses. As for content, it’s almost entirely shameless Tory propaganda. That, in my view, reached a new nadir last year in the massive smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, in which Mike and very many others were libelled and smeared as anti-Semites and Nazis. This included decent, self-respected Jews like Jackie Walker. This all comes from Murdoch himself, although I very much doubt he personally ordered any of it. It’s just the direction he’s taken these papers from the start. He is reported to have a very cavalier attitude to libel. Apparently he isn’t deterred from publishing a libelous story by the mere fact that it is libelous, only by whether the fine from a successful prosecution would be more than the sales gained through publishing it. If the number of copies sold wouldn’t be worth more than the fine, the story’s spiked. If the sales and the profits from them are more, then he goes ahead. And heaven help the poor soul at the other end.

According to the Eye, the Times is losing money hand over fist. So much so, that if it were any other paper it would have been axed or sold years ago. But it’s Britain’s paper of record, and so gives Murdoch a place at the political table. Murdoch’s empire as a whole is also in dire financial trouble. Zelo Street a little while ago put up a piece about what News International’s published accounts showed, and instead of a tidy profit they showed a massive, staggering loss. Some of that is due to the fines and out of court settlements Murdoch has had to make for the phone hacking scandal. I’ve forgotten the precise figures, but it’s tens of millions – a truly eye-watering amount.

The Murdoch press’ concern for local papers is also, as you might guess, hypocritical. Going back to Private Eye again, that paper reported in its ‘Street Of Shame’ column that in terms of sales, local papers are actually doing rather well. They’re bucking the decline in newspaper sales. However, they’re under immense financial pressure to the point where many are folding because they’re owned by the same corporations who own the big national papers, and their profits are being used to keep the national papers going.

Now many businesses are suffering because of the crisis and the necessary lockdown, especially small businesses like local shops and the self-employed. Many of these are seriously worried, because they don’t qualify for the government’s promised payment of 80 per cent of their income. Or if they do, it’ll come too late, as the first payment will come in June. But I have little sympathy for the Tory press because of their role in cheering on and propagandising for 40 years of Thatcherism and the poverty, unemployment, and now starvation they’ve caused. All for the profit of the rich few.

If Murdoch’s squalid empire went under tomorrow, it would just be too bad. Except that the people who’d suffer would be the junior writers, the production staff, printers and distributors. The big, star writers, editors and management, including Murdoch himself and his family, would all get generous payouts for their part in degrading British culture and its working paper for all these decades.

 

Therese Coffey: Another Tory Minister Who Thinks Food Banks Are Brilliant

January 30, 2020

Yesterday the Canary reported that the Labour MP Zahra Sultana, who called food banks a ‘national disgrace’, wrote to Coffey about the obscene injustice of nurses having to use food banks while fat-cat bosses are rewarded with massive payouts. Sultana was understandably upset that there were now more food banks in the UK than branches of McDonald’s and that the British boss of the fast food firm had received a settlement of £30 million after they had fired him.

She got this bland reply from Coffey:

I visited a similar food bank in my own constituency that has been working together with food redistribution schemes. Marrying the two is a perfect way to try to address the challenges that people face at difficult times in their lives.

Coffey also called the people using food banks ‘customers’, thus giving the misleading the impression that they had some kind of choice over whether or not to be there.

Sultana wasn’t impressed, and neither were other commenters on twitter. She commented

I just asked the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions about the gross injustice of nurses relying on food banks while the rich get richer.

Her response? She called food banks a “perfect way” to meet the challenges of those in poverty.

The Tories are totally out of touch.

The article goes on to report that BristolLive had also said that they’d been told by one volunteer at a food bank that four or five nurses had visited a food bank in one week.

The Canary’s article also criticised Coffey for not mentioning that food banks run by volunteers are supported through donations. They’re there to help poor people struggling to feed themselves and their families because of ten years of Tory austerity, welfare cuts and Universal Credit. And Coffey certainly wasn’t going to tackle the problem of bloated salaries for fat-cat bosses and widening inequality.

The Canary further reported that the Trussell Trust had stated in April 2019 that food bank use had reached a record high point. Between 1st April 2018 and 31st March the charity had distributed 1.6 million food parcels. This was a rise of 19 per cent from the previous year. About half a million of them were given to children.

Sabine Goodwin, the head of the Independent Food Aid Network, commented that Coffey’s remarks showed how food bank use had been normalised in the UK, and that they were now the fourth emergency service.

The Canary concluded:

The DWP is not fit for purpose. And Coffey’s latest response highlights just how dangerous it truly is.

See: https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2020/01/28/dwp-minister-thinks-foodbanks-are-a-perfect-solution/

This is just the latest scandal in which a Tory minister has made a bland, evasive statement praising food banks and ignoring the underlying problem of the massive suffering the Tories themselves have caused. I think the last one was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was similarly blasted for his complacency. In fact, food banks and the volunteers who run them are doing an excellent job. I know that two of the great commenters on this blog are involved with those in their communities. That isn’t the point. The point is, they shouldn’t be needed. There should be no benefit sanctions nor false or falsified fitness for work tests throwing people who are too ill or disabled to work off benefits. The unemployed and disabled should be given benefits at a level that allows them to live properly, paid the moment they request and need them. They should not have to wait a few days, let alone five weeks, before receiving a payment. Working people should also be paid a decent wage, so that they also can afford to feed, heat and clothe themselves and their families.

But this is precisely what Tories like Coffey do not want to happen. They are dismantling the welfare state because they wish to relieve high earners – the rich – of the tax burden of supporting the poor. They originally tried justifying this with specious arguments about ‘trickledown’. The money the rich saved would trickle down to the poor as their social superiors opened new businesses, employed more people and paid higher wages. But they don’t actually do any of that. It just stays in their banks accounts, accumulating interest while they boast about how many hundreds of K they’ve trousered. I also believe the Tories actually like food banks because they see them as the British counterpart to the American system of food stamps.

They also have absolutely no problem with rising inequality. In fact, I remember them openly being all for it. Right at the beginning of the Thatcher project in the 1980s, various Tories appeared on BBC documentaries about benefit cuts and wage restraint raving about how wonderful it was. They believed that conditions should be made worse for the poor, as this would encourage them to ‘do well’. Thatcher herself was a fan of the less eligibility system of Victorian poor relief. Like them, she believed conditions should be made as humiliating and oppressive as possible for those on welfare in order to make them get a job as quickly as possible. He successors have weaponised it further, and now see it as a means of culling the sick and poor. 130,000 people have been killed so far by austerity in a campaign described by Mike and other bloggers and welfare commenters and organisations as the genocide of the disabled.

Food banks are not a perfect solution for people people at a difficult point in their lives. They are a severely inadequate attempt to ameliorate some of the worse effects of Tory austerity and welfare cuts. It is great that people are there, trying to do something for the poor.

But it is a glaring disgrace that they should be needed in first place. Coffee is a smooth, smiling dissembler trying to put a good front over utterly disgraceful, murderous Tory policies. She and the wretched government she serves can’t fall soon enough.