Posts Tagged ‘Mining’

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

Space Scientist John S. Lewis on Prosperity and the Colonisation of the Asteroid Belt

December 27, 2016

I found this really interesting, optimistic passage below in John S. Lewis’ Mining the Sky (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley 1997).

John S. Lewis is the Professor of Planetary Sciences and Codirector of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Subtitled, Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets, the book discusses the ways the immense mineral wealth of the solar system and the access it gives to the energy available from the Sun through solar power can be exploited through the colonisation of the solar system with present-day space technology, or developments from it that can reasonably be expected. The chapter ‘The Asteroid Belt: Treasure Beyond Measure’ describes the vast resources of the tiny, rocky worldlets of that part of the solar system, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not only does he describe the various metals and other minerals available there, but he also discusses the vast increase in personal wealth that would be given to nearly everyone on Earth if the money gained from the mining of these minerals were shared out equally.

I do not want to leave the impression that enough mineral wealth exists in the asteroid belt to provide $7 billion for each person on Earth. That would not be fair. In fact, this estimate completely ignores the value of all th other ingredients of asteroids besides iron. We know, for example, that for every ton of iron in the asteroids, there’s 140 pounds of nickel. That comes to about $6 billion worth of nickel. Meteorite metals contain about 0.5 percent cobalt, which sells for about $15 a pound. That gives another $26 billion each. The platinum-group metals, which sell for about $460 per troy ounce ($15 per gram, or $6,800 per ound) make up about fifteen parts per million of meteorite metal. That comes to another $1.6 X 10 X 20, which is $32 billion per person. So far that is about $72 billion each, and we are not close to done. Add in gold, silver, copper, manganese, titanium, the rare earths, uranium, and so on, and the total rises to over $100 billion for each person on Earth.

It appears that sharing the belt’s wealth among five billion people leads to a shameless level of affluence. Each citizen, assuming he or she could be persuaded to work a forty-hour week, could spend every working hour for 70 years counting $100 bills at the rate of one per second (that’s $360,000 per hour) and fail to finish counting this share of the take. If we were instead to be satisfied with an average per capita wealth comparable to that in the upper economic classes of the industrialised nations today, roughly $100,000 per person, then the resources of the belt would suffice to sustain a million times as many people on Earth. These 10 to the power of 16 people could all live as well as ninety-fifth percentile American of the late twentieth century. With recycling and an adequate source of power, this immense population is sustainable into the indefinite future. The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is not to generate insane levels of personal wealth for the charter members; the best use is to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all-human beings. People embody intelligence, by for the most precious resource in the universe and one in terribly short supply. (p. 196).

Now clearly, this is the ideal situation, presented without the risks and costs of actually reaching the asteroid belt and extracting the wealth bound up in its rocks. I also believe that in practice, much of that wealth would also be consumed by the mining companies or terrestrial government agencies responsible for the belt’s commercial exploitation. But it is refreshing to see humans viewed not as a cost in the process of production, which needs to be eliminated as much as possible, but as a valuable and indispensable resource, which needs to be used in the process of exploration and commercial exploitation as much as possible, and handsomely rewarded for its contribution.

On the next page, Lewis also describes the advantages of solar power for the future miners and colonists over fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

But wait a minute! Why not use solar power? The Sun pumps out power at the prodigious rate of 4 X 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, equivalent to 4 X 10 to the power of 26 watts. Our supercivilisation needs 10 to the power of 19 watts to keep going. The Sun is pumping out forty million times as much power as we need! But what do we need to do to capture and use that energy? The simplest answer (not necessarily the best-there may be even more desirable options that we have not thought of yet) is to use vast arrays of solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical power. If the cells have an efficiency of about 20 percent, similar to the best commercial cells made at present, then each square meter of cell area exposed to the Sun near Earth’s orbit would generate 270 watts of electrical power continuously. We would need thirty-seven billion square kilometers of solar cells to provide our power needs, an area comparable to the total surface area of our habitats. At about 0.1 grams per square centimeter for the solar cells, we would need about 3.7 X 10 to the power of 19 grams of silicon to make the cells and perhaps three times as much metal to provide the supports and wires for the power-collection system. The asteroids give us 4X10 to the power of 23 grams of silicon, more than ten thousand times the amount we need for this purpose. The cost of the solar power units is set by the need to construct a few square meters of solar cells per person. The cost would be about two hundred dollars per person at present prices, or a few dollars per person at future mass-production prices. That is not your monthly electric bill: it is a one-time-only expenditure to provide all the electric power you will need for the rest of your life.

All this reckons with 1997 technology. New types of high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or other exotic materials, combined with ultra-lightweight parabolic reflectors to collect and concentrate sunlight onto small areas of these cells, promise to perform much better than these highly conservative estimates. (pp. 197-8).

This is the solar power available for the asteroid colonies near Earth. In a later chapter, 14, Lewis discusses ‘Environmental Solutions for Earth’.

Lewis certainly isn’t against private industry in space. Indeed, in an imaginary scenario in one of the first chapters he has a future businessman enthusing about the profits to be gained from mining the Moon or other parts of the Solar system. But he’s clearly like many space visionaries in that he believes that humanity’s expansion into the cosmos will bring immense benefits in enriching and raising the personal quality of life for each individual as well as benefiting the environment down here on Earth.

But reading that paragraph on the benefits of solar power does show why some politicians, particularly in the Tory and Republican parties in Britain and America, who are the paid servants of the nuclear and fossil fuel companies, are so dead set against solar power, as well as other renewables. Quite simply, if it’s adopted, these industries immediately become obsolete, the obscene wealth enjoyed by their CEOs, senior management, and the aristocracy of Middle Eastern oil states, like Saudi Arabia, vanishes along with their political power. And the proles have access to cheaper power. Indeed, people using solar power today are actually able to reverse the usual norm slightly and sell power back to the grid.

No wonder the Tories are trying to shut it all down in favour of nuclear and fracking.

Theresa May and the Faux-Feminism of the Tories

July 10, 2016

Okay, it appears from the latest developments in the Tory leadership contest that their next leader will not only be a woman, but probably Theresa May. May’s currently, I think, the Home Office Minister. Another Tory authoritarian, she’d like the spooks to have access to all our telecoms information to stop us joining ISIS and abusing children. Or at least, that’s what she says. Either way, she represents the continuing expansion of the secret state and its determination to pry into every aspect of our lives. Just in case we’re doing something illegal. In the polls Thursday night or so she won something like 144 votes compared to Andrea Leadsom’s 86 and Michael Gove’s 43. There was a shot of her at one of the party rallies, which showed Ian Duncan Smith, the former Minister in Charge of the Murder of the Disabled looking up at her with the same kind of rapture you see in pictures of Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg as he introduces Adolf Hitler.

May as the Modern Thatcher

The papers on Friday were full of the news of her probable victory. The Torygraph ran the headline, ‘If you want something said, go to a man. If you want something done, go to a woman’. Presumably this was a quote from May herself, trying to position herself as a go-getting woman of action, ready to sort out the mess the men have left. It’s also intended to get her support from Britain’s women. Look, she and her PR gurus are saying, I represent all the women in Britain, and their drives and frustrations in trying to get the top job. And I’ve done it, and, so vicariously, have Britain’s women through me. Vote for me, and we’ll sort Britain out again. The Mirror summed up her probable victory with the headline ‘Another Thatcher’.

That’s true, and it looks very much like the Tory party is trying to hark back to Margaret Thatcher’s victory way back in 1979, and the thirteen years of flag-waving, prole-bashing that unleashed. Thatcher was Britain’s first, and so far, only female Prime Minister. Her election was instrumental in getting the Tories female support, and presenting their agenda of poverty, welfare cuts, joblessness and general immiseration as somehow empowering and progressive. It presented a faux-feminist veneer to what was an acutely traditionalist party. Thatcher did not see herself as a feminist, but nevertheless, her lackeys in the press ran features on her deliberately aimed at women and gaining their support. When she was ousted, Germaine Greer, who had been bitterly critical of her time in No. 10, wrote a piece in the Groan ‘A Sad Day for Every Woman’. And this propaganda line continued with other female Tories afterwards. I can remember a piece in the Mail on Sunday discussing what politics would be like in a female dominated House of Commons about the time Virginia Bottomley joined Major’s cabinet. It imagined Britain as an anarcho-capitalist utopia, where everything was privatised, and instead of the police neighbourhoods hired private security guards. And it ran the notorious factoid that’s been repeated and debunked ever since: that managing the country’s economy was like running a household. Women, so the article claimed, automatically had a better understanding of how the economy should be run through their role controlling the household budget. It’s actually rubbish, as the Angry Yorkshireman, Mike over at Vox Political and a number of left-wing economists and bloggers have repeatedly pointed out. For example, when budgeting for a household, you try to avoid debt, or pay it off as quickly as possible. But no-one has wanted to pay off the national debt since at least the late 18th century, and governments contract debts all the time with the deliberate intention of stimulating growth, as well as having the ability to manipulate circumstances in ways that the average householder can’t. They can, for example, affect the economy by setting the value of their currencies in order to promote exports, for example. The Japanese have deliberately kept the Yen weak in order to make their exports less expensive and so more competitive on foreign markets. They can also alter, or affect exchange rates to control public expenditure outside of immediate state spending. Ordinary people can’t do any of this. But nevertheless, the lie is repeated, and as we’ve seen, believed. A little while ago a man in the audience at Question Time challenged one of the politicos there with not running the country properly. He claimed it should have been obvious to anyone who’s had to run a household. Or possibly their own business.

Women Suffering the Most from Tory Misrule

In power, Thatcher – and the Tories’ policies in general – have hit women the hardest. Women tend to work in the poorest paid jobs, those least unionised, and so with the fewest protections. They are also more likely than men to be active as carers, with the immense responsibilities and pressures that entails. The Tories’ austerity policies have seen more women laid off, and more suffering cuts to hours and pay, with worsening conditions. These have been inflicted on male workers and carers as well, of course. I personally know blokes as well as women, who’ve been put on zero hours contracts, of have had to fight battles with the DWP to get disability benefits for their partners. Women haven’t been solely hit by any means, but they have been especially hit.

Tory Feminism only for the Rich

But I’ve no doubt that the Tories will try to hide all that, and positively divert attention away from it, by pointing to the success of May in finally getting to No. 10. It’ll be presented as another crack in glass ceiling preventing women from getting the top jobs. I’ve also no doubt that there will be some noises about making sure that business, industry and parliament becomes more representative of the country. There will be loud announcements about getting more women into parliament, on the boards of business, and in male-dominated areas such as science and engineering.

But this will all be done to give power and jobs to women from May’s background: well-heeled, well-educated middle class public school gels from Roedean and the like. Rich, corporate types like Hillary Clinton in the US. It isn’t going to be for women from council estates and comprehensive schools, ordinary women working back-breaking jobs in factories, as care home staff, nurses, cleaners, shop assistants, office workers and the like, all of whom are increasingly under pressure from the government’s austerity programme. They, and the men alongside whom they work, doing the same jobs, aren’t going to be helped by the Tories one little bit.

The Thin Veneer of Tory Liberalism

May’s faux-feminism is part of a general thin façade of progressivism, which the Tory party occasionally adopts to promote itself. Cameron came to power pretending to be more left-wing than Tony Blair. When he took over the Tory party, he made much about shedding the party’s image of racism and homophobia. He cut links with the Monday Club, went around promoting Black Tory candidates. Gay MPs were encouraged to come forward and be open about their sexuality. In power, he ostentatiously supported gay marriage, presenting it as Tory victory, even though it had practically already been introduced by Tony Blair in the guise of civil partnerships. Cameron and IDS wanted to be seen as liberal modernisers. But all their reforms are extremely shallow, designed to disguise the rigidly authoritarian and hierarchical party underneath. A party determined to make the poor as poor as possible for the corporate rich.

Generational Differences in Voting

Looking through the stats with friends on Friday, it seems that there’s a marked divergence in political attitudes between young women, and those over 55. The majority of women over 55 tend to vote Conservative, according to the stats. I know plenty who don’t, and so this can be challenged. My guess is that, if this is accurate, it’s probably due to the fact that women generally haven’t worked in the kind of manual trades occupied by men, which require considerable solidarity and so have produced strong union bonds, like mining, metal work and so on. It’s also possibly partly due to the prevailing social ideology when they were born. There was a marked lull in feminist activity between women finally gaining the vote in 1928 or so and the rise of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s. During those forty years, the dominant social attitude was that women should concentrate on their roles of wife and mother. Many firms in this period would not hire married women, a practice which caused immense hardship to women, and families generally that needed two incomes to make ends meet. Also, generally speaking, support for the Tories is higher amongst pensioners.

Younger women are more likely to be left-wing and socialist. If correct, this generally follows the trend of the younger generation being more idealistic and progressive than their elders.

I hope that despite all the pseudo-feminist verbiage and lies the Tories will spout from now onwards, trying to make themselves more presentable to the nation’s female voters, women will recognise them for what they are, and vote them out. As soon as possible.

Dennis Skinner on Mike Ashley and Sports Direct

June 6, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has published a piece about Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, finally agreeing to meet the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, who are investigating the employment practices in his firm. Among the issues they wish to inquire into are claims that working conditions at Sports Direct result in employees working for less than the minimum wage. Ashley was unwilling to meet them at their headquarters, and so invited them to come to talk to him at his headquarters, but this violates parliamentary transparency. So they threatened to apply sanctions. This finally worked, and Ashley has agreed to go to meet them.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/06/sports-direct-founder-to-appear-before-mps-after-committee-prepares-to-apply-sanctions/

Shirebrook, where Sports Direct’s headquarters is located, is in Dennis Skinner’s constituency, and the left-wing Labour MP has a few sharp criticisms at Ashley and his firm in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences. Especially as the site occupied by it is on former coal tips, which were levelled and the land reclaimed through funding obtained by Skinner as the local MP. Skinner writes

Mike Ashley, the billionaire operator of sports shops on many high streets and the Newcastle United football club in the premiership, owns a huge Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook in the Bolsover constituency. I secured £21 million from Gordon Brown when he was chancellor of the exchequer to flatten Shirebrook’s pit tips and Ashley’s buildings sit on the reclaimed site. So Ashley’s plant was subsidised out of the public purse.

Sadly, MPs such as myself have no control over planning matters and East Midlands regional development agency didn’t heed advice to demand that trade unions be recognised. As a result, if all the workers I’ve seen from the place are representative of the whole workforce there, the warehouse is filled with hundreds of workers on insecure zero-hours agency contracts at little more than the minimum wage. So taxpayers subsidise Ashley a second time by topping up the low pay with benefits to enable his workforce to survive.

No trade union is recognised at Sports Direct in Shirebrook and I know from conversations with countless nervous workers that they’re terrified of speaking out of turn because they fear they’ll be sacked. Almost everybody I’ve come across was recruited through an agency, on poor conditions, rather than through Jobcentres. I know of very few workers there who are on full-time permanent contracts paying a living wage. I wrote to Ashley asking why at Newcastle United, the football club he owns, a trade union is recognised for the players but he doesn’t recognise a trade union for the workers at Sports Direct. Ashley never replied. What’s more, I, as the local MP, have never, on principle, set foot in the warehouse.

Greedy bosses such as Ashley are why I shall be a socialist as long as I breathe. He’s rich beyond the dreams of avarice by exploiting workers. Worth an estimate £3.75 billion, his loot increased by £1.45 billion last year according to the latest Rich List. He’s amassed a fortune even bigger than that grinning tax dodger Richard Branson. The helicopter Ashley flies in, to and from that Shirebrook plant, is paid for by the sweat of men and women who struggle to afford a bus fare home.

The truth is the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) forced Ashley to recognise a union at Newcastle United. Footballers are a tightly knit small group with a transfer value on the market. At Sports Direct, Ashley holds all the cards – the company hiring and firing at will. He dips into a large pool of vulnerable unemployed. (pp. 101-2).

This shows the double standards between the very lucrative world of professional football, and the poor souls, who slave away in sweatshops all over the world to produce the merchandising sold by exploiters and slave drivers like Mike Ashley. Sports Directs’ head should have much explaining to do, but I dare say he’ll get away with it, or escape with a bare minimum punishment due to the fact that he’s one of the go-getting entrepreneurs the Tories and New Labour just love. And bad luck for the rest of us.

Dennis Skinner on Ending Exploitation by Private Employment Agencies

May 31, 2016

I little while ago this evening I put up piece detailing Dennis Skinner’s own proposals for improving Britain in his book, Sailing Close the Wind. One of them was to end private employment agencies, and get back to using Jobcentres to notify people of available work. He gives a bit more information about his opposition to private employment agencies, which actively discriminate against trade unionists and, he argues, promote racism against foreign workers.

After discussing his success under Gordon Brown’s administration in creating an industrial estate that could provide 6,000 jobs, Skinner goes on to write

All the growth, however, has to be accompanied by a totally new employment strategy. the Labour government has to get rid of zero-hours contracts and agencies that exploit the workers and effectively outlaw trade union membership, refusing to hire anybody who joins a union. Let us get back to the days when the Labour Exchange or Jobcentres provided people with work, and employment agencies didn’t short-change and abuse people. Men and women today are worried about being undercut by foreign labour. The real problem is that agencies act as middlemen, taking a cut of wages. When I worked in the coal mines in the late 1940s, Poles and Ukrainians were employed in nearly every pit. They were regarded as displaced persons after the war. I can’t remember any serious objections. And why not? Simply because a) they were not employed by agencies, b) they were paid the same wages as us and c) they were all members of the NUM or the appropriate trade union! Today these lessons should be learned and practised in every private or public firm in Britain. (pp. 55-6).

The Miners and Industrial Democracy: Is This Why Thatcher Destroyed the Industry?

May 2, 2016

I found this passage in G.D.H. Cole’s Fabian pamphlet, Guild Socialism (London: Fabian Society 1919) in which he discusses the way some of the trade unions and their shop stewards, particularly the railwaymen and the miners, were wishing to transform the negative control they had in their industries towards positive control. By this, he meant that they wished to change from simply telling the management of those industries what they could not do, to becoming active participants in the management of their industries. Cole wrote:

Perhaps the most remarkable tendency in that direction in recent years is the growth of the Shop Stewards Movement. it has been principally in the Engineering and allied industries, where it represents a definite attempt by the workers to convert their negative restrictions on industry into a form of positive control over industry. You may say that that was not consciously so. So far as many of the Shop Stewards are concerned it was not; but I am dealing not with what was consciously present in the mind of every Shop Steward, but with the general tendency of policy behind the Shop Stewards’ Movement as a whole. In that sense, what I say is undoubtedly true. During the present year the big control movement of the railwaymen and the miners have been obvious expressions of the tendency I have been describing. Both the railwaymen an the miners no longer content themselves with the imposition of restrictions on the way in which industry is run, but demand that they shall be admitted to a share in the control of industry, and shall have the right to a certain extent to lay down the conditions under which industry is to be organised in the future, and to share in the positive task of reorganising it. There is the second big difference between Trade Unionism as it has existed in the past and the Guild of the Future. (p. 10).

Thatcher was determined to smash the unions, and particularly the miners’, because of the way they had overturned Heath’s government with the three-day week. She was also terrified of them ‘ratcheting down’ of success reforms by the Labour party, which she believed would result in the complete socialisation of industry. 1975 was also the year of the Bullock report, which recommended a system of workers’ control, where the trade unions would place worker’s representative in the boardroom. Reading that passage and its remarks on the desires of the miners and railwaymen now nearly a century ago to run their industries, whether that was what she was also scared of. And the result was her privatisation and destruction of the mining industry, and John Major’s destructive privatisation of the railways.

Vox Political On the Bitter Injustice of the BHS Collapse and Philip Green’s Third Yacht

April 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece about the most bitter part of the collapse of BHS: its chairman, Philip Green, was a serial tax avoider, who took £400 million out of the company. He bought himself yet another yacht, to add to the two he owned already. The company collapsed, throwing 11,000 people out of their jobs, and with £571 million black hole in its pension funds.

Mike urges its employees who voted Tory to take a long, hard look at what this says about the treatment of employees under David Cameron. It says that corporate bosses can get away with keeping their wealth, while their workers get nothing.

The bitterest part of the BHS collapse: Philip Green’s third yacht

This isn’t the first company that’s collapsed through lack of investment thanks to free trade economics. There have been others, and the economic thinking behind it is the first target in Han-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The Russian Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, also had a few choice things to say about the businessmen of his time, who deliberately limited production to keep the profits from their products high, which is similar to Green starving his company of funds for his own enrichment. In his essay, ‘Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles’, Kropotkin wrote:

But the figures just mentioned, while showing the real increase of production, give only a faint idea of what our production might be under a more reasonable economical organisation. We know well that the owners of capital, while trying to produce more wares with fewer ‘hands’, are continually endeavouring at the same time to limit the production, in order to sell at higher prices. When the profits of a concern are going down, the owner of the capital limits the production, or totally suspends it, and prefers to engage his capital in foreign loans or shares in Patagonian gold-mines. Just now there are plenty of pitmen in England who ask for nothing better than to be permitted to extract coal and supply with cheap fuel the households where children are shivering before empty chimneys. There are thousands of weavers who ask for nothing better than to weave stuffs in order to replace the ragged dress of the poor with decent clothing. And so in all branches of industry. How can we talk about a want of means of subsistence when thousands of factories lie idle in Great Britain alone; and when there are, just now, thousands and thousands of unemployed in London alone; thousands of men who would consider themselves happy if they were permitted to transform (under the guidance of experienced agriculturists) the clay of Middlesex into a rich soil, and to cover with cornfields and orchards the acres of meadow land which now yields only a few pounds’ worth of hay? But they are prevented from doing so by the owners of the land, or the weaving factory, and of the coal-mine, because capital finds it more advantageous to supply the Khedive with harems and the Russian Government with ‘strategic railways’ and Krupp guns. Of course the maintenance of harems pays: it gives 10 or 15 per cent on the capital, while the extraction of coal does not pay – that is, it brings 3 or 5 per cent – and that is a sufficient reason for limiting the production and permitting would-be economists to indulge in reproaches to the working classes as to their too rapid multiplication! (Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchist Communism’, in Nicolas Walter, ed., Anarchism & Anarchist Communism (London: Freedom Press 1987) 34-5).

Kropotkin was appropriated by Cameron’s ideological mentor, Philip Blonde, in his book, Red Tory. It’s not hard to see why. Kropotkin as an Anarchist favoured the elimination of government, and was impressed by the achievements of private organisations, such as the Lifeboats and the international postage and railway systems, which lay outside of an overarching regulatory body. But Kropotkin was also a communist and a bitter critic of the poverty created by modern industrial capitalism. Blonde used his anarchist ideas to provide some kind of left-ish underpinning to Cameron’s idea of the ‘Big Society’. The latter was really only flimsy disguise for traditional Tory privatisation and laissez-faire capitalism. Whatever you think of his anarchism, Kropotkin deserves better.

Private Eye on the Coalition’s Attempt to Make Prosecutions for Industrial Accident More Difficult

March 13, 2016

Private Eye ran this piece in their issue for 3rd – 16th May 2013. I’m fairly certain Mike over at Vox Political also covered it at the time, so its might be worth going over to his blog and looking at through the posts for that time for more information.

Insult to Injury

David Cameron won applause from the Daily Mail in January last year when he promised “to kill the health and safety culture”. Move on to Spring 2013, and we can see what his pledge means: the coalition is to slash compensation payments to injured employees and the families of dead workers, which have existed since the 19th century.

In a sly manoeuvre, the Tories and Liberal Democrats waited until their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill had passed the scrutiny of a Commons committee, the slipped in a clause to make it harder for injured men and widowed women (or vice versa) to sue. Henceforth, the coalition told the House of Lords late at night when no one was watching, the burden of proving what caused an accident will fall on the injured worker or the family of the dead.

Peers, who have little experience of the dangers of construction, mining or hands-on agriculture, approved the measure. When the coalition abolished the Agricultural Wages Board it rigged the consultation process (Eyes passim) – but with civil liability for health and safety at work, it topped that dismal achievement and allowed no public consultation whatsoever.

Health and safety inspectors will still be able to prosecute. But as Tom Jones, of Thompsons solicitors said, there are 78,000 civil claims for compensation following accidents at work every year, but only 1,000 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) criminal prosecutions. This change will restrict enforcement in 98.7 per cent of health and safety breaches.

Thompsons represents trade unions, and its numbers may be biased, but even according to the government’s own figures, the “reform” will affect 70,000 cases a year. That’s an awful lot of dead and injured workers.

Lord Hardie, a former Lord Advocate of Scotland, told the Lords: “If this clause remains part of the bill, those who have suffered catastrophic injury, or the widows and families of employees who have been killed, will now have to depend upon state benefits for their maintenance. The financial burden will be transferred to widows, children, disabled people, and to the state. Insurance companies will be the principal beneficiaries”.

The government was not attacking some faddish, modern ‘elf and safety culture. Hardie continued, but a right to swift compensation that goes back to an 1898 court of appeal ruling in England and Wales, and an 1871 decision by Scottish judges. Since then, the law has accepted that all an employee has to prove is that they suffered in a dangerous workplace.

No more, Jones told the Eye. In the past, if you lost a hand in a piece of machinery, you only needed to show that the machine had a faulty guard. No you will have to prove that the employer knew the guard needed replacing or ought to have known. This is a much harder task, made harder still by the government’s cuts to legal aid. In future, insurance companies will be able to spin out a case until the employee’s solicitor has spent the £900 allocated to accidents at work. They will then be able to compel the worker to accept a lower settlement or nothing at all.

Nye Bevan and Nostalgia for the Era Before the NHS: My Response to a Critic

February 15, 2016

Last week I received a comment from Billellson criticising me for stating that Aneurin Bevan was the architect of the NHS. He also stated that we did not have a private healthcare system before the NHS, and although some charges were made, they were in his words, not so much that people would lose their house.

Here’s what he wrote.

“Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS, was also acutely aware of the way ordinary women suffered under the private health care system that put medicine out of the reach of the poor.”
Aneurin Bevan was not the architect of the National Health Service. The NHS was a wartime coalition policy, for the end of hostilities, agreed across parties. The concept was set out in the Beveridge Report published in December 1942, endorsed by Winston Churchill in a national broadcast in 1943 and practical proposals, including those the things the public value re the NHS today, set out in a white paper by Minister of Health Conservative Henry Willink in March 1944. It would have been established whoever was Minister of Health after the war / whichever party won the 1945 general election. The UK did not have a ‘private health care system’ before the NHS. Most hospitals in England and Wales were local government owned and run, the remainder voluntary (charitable). Those who could afford to pay for treatment were required to do so, or at least make a contribution, but nobody was expected to sell their house. The poor were treated in hospitals free of charge. c11 million workers were covered for GP consultations by the National Health Insurance Scheme which had been established in 1911. In many places, particularly mining areas, there were mutual aid societies that established health facilities including dispensaries. Scotland had a greater degree of state health provision and Northern Ireland had greater faith based provision before their NHSs were established, starting on the same day as Bevan’s English and Welsh service, but always separate established under separate legislation.

So I checked this with what Pauline Gregg says about the creation of the NHS in her The Welfare State: An Economic and Social History of Great Britain from 1945 to the Present Day (London: George G. Harrap & Co 1967).

She states

In 1942, during the War, the scope of health insurance had been considerably widened by the raising of the income limit for participation to £420 a year. But it still covered only about half the population and included neither specialist nor hospital service, neither dental, optical, nor hearing aid. Mental deficiency was isolated from other forms of illness. Medical practitioners were unevenly spread over the country – they had been before the War, but now their war-time service had too often disrupted their practices and left their surgeries to run down or suffer bomb damage.

Hospitals were at all stages of development. There were more than a thousand voluntary hospitals in England and Wales, varying from large general or specialist hospitals with first-class modern equipment and with medical schools attended by distinguished consultants, down to small local cottage hospitals. There were some 2000 more which had been founded by the local authorities or had developed from the sick ward of the old workhouse, ranging again through all types and degrees of excellence. Waiting-lists were long; most hospitals came out of the War under-equipped with staff and resources of all kinds; all needed painting, repairing, reorganising; some were cleaning up after bomb damage; most needed to reorient themselves before they turned from war casualties to peace-time commitments; all needed new equipment and new buildings. Other medical services were only too clearly the result of haphazard development. There were Medical Officers of Health employed by the local authorities, sanitary inspectors concerned with environmental health, medical inspectors of factories, nearly 2000 doctors on call to industry, as well as doctors privately appointed by firms to treat their staff. A school medical service provided for regular inspection of all children in public elementary and secondary schools; local authorities provided maternity and child care, health visiting, tuberculosis treatment, and other services for the poor, which varied widely from district to district. How many people there were of all ages and classes who were needing treatment but not getting it could only be guessed at.

Since it was clear that ad hoc improvement would no longer serve, a complete reshaping of the health and medical service marked the only line of advance. The general pattern it would take was indicated by Sir William Beveridge, who laid down his Report in 1942 the axiom that a health service must be universal, that the needs of the rich and poor are alike and should be met by the same means: ” restoration of a sick person to health is a duty of the state … prior to any other,” a “comprehensive national health service will ensure that for every citizen there is available whatever medical treatment he requires, in whatever form he requires it, domiciliary or institutional, general, specialist or consultant, and will ensure also the provision of dental, ophthalmic and surgical appliances, nursing and midwifery and rehabilitation after accidents.”

The Coalition Government accepted the Health Service Proposals of the Beveridge Report and prepared a White Paper, which it presented to Parliament in February 1944, saying the same thing as Beveridge in different words: “The government .. intend to establish a comprehensive health service for everybody in this country. They want to ensure that in future every man and woman and child can rely on getting all the advice and treatment and care which they may need in matters of personal health; that what they get shall be the best medical and other facilities available; that their getting these shall not depend on whether they can pay for them, or any other factor irrelevant to the real need – the real need being to bring the country’s full resources to bear upon reducing ill-health and promoting good health in all its citizens.” The Health Service, it said, should be a water, as the highways, available to all and all should pay through rates, taxes and social insurance.

Ernest Brown, a Liberal National, Minister of Health in the Coalition Government, was responsible for a first plan for a National Health Service which subordinated the general practitioner to the Medical Officer of Health and the local authorities, It was abandoned amid a professional storm. The scheme of Henry Willink, a later Minister of Health, was modelled on the White Paper, but was set aside with the defeat of Churchill’s Government in the 1945 Election. In the Labour Government the role of Minister of Health fell to Aneurin Bevan, who produced a scheme within a few months of Labour’s victory.

Pp. 39-51.

Churchill’s own attitude to the nascent NHS and the emergence of the later welfare state was ambivalent. In March 1943, for example, he gave a speech endorsing it. Gregg again says

He was “very much attracted to the idea” of a Four Year Plan of his own which included “national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave”, a national health service, a policy for full employment in which private and public enterprise both had a part to play, the rebuilding of towns and a housing programme, and a new Education Act. He envisaged “five or six large measures of a practical character”, but did not specify them, … (p. 25).

However, two years later after the Beveridge Report had become the official policy of the Labour party, Churchill’s tone was markedly hostile.

Coming to the microphone on June 4, 1945, he said: “My friends, I must tell you that a Socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas of freedom … Socialism is in its essence an attack not only upon British enterprise, but upon the right of an ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils. A free Parliament – look at that – a free Parliament is odious to the Socialist doctrinaire.” The Daily Express followed the next day with banner headlines: “Gestapo in Britain if Socialists Win”. (pp. 32-3)

So Mr Ellson is partly right, but only partly. There was some state and municipal healthcare provision, but it was a patchy and did not cover about half the population. It was a Coalition policy, which was sort of endorse by Churchill. However, its wholehearted embrace and execution was by the Labour party under Aneurin Bevan.

And its immense benefit and desirability was recognised by many traditionally staunch Tories at the time. One of my mother’s friends was herself a pillar of the local Conservative party, and the daughter of a pharmacist. She told my mother that at the 1945 elections her father gather his family together and told them that he had always voted Tory, but this time he was going to vote Labour, because the country needed the NHS. He explained that he served too many people, giving them their drugs on credit, because they couldn’t pay, not to vote for Labour and the NHS.

Now I think the Tories would like to roll state healthcare provision back to that of the pre-NHS level, where there is some minimal state provision, but much is carried out by private industry. The Daily Heil a few years ago was moaning about how the friendly societies were excluded from a role in the NHS. Like them, I think Mr Ellson has far too rosy a view of the situation before the NHS. I’ve blogged on here already accounts from doctors of that period on how badly much of the population were served before the NHS, especially those without health insurance.

Britain needed the NHS, and the party that was most passionately in favour of it was Labour. That some Tories were in favour of it, including Churchill on occasions, is true. But there were others in the party that were very firmly against, and it was ultimately Rab Butler in the Tories who reconciled them to the NHS. But that reconciliation is breaking down, and they are determined to privatise it anyway they can.