Posts Tagged ‘Shareholders’

Labour to Help Working Poor in First Term

July 18, 2019

On a more optimist note, yesterday’s I also carried a report on page 8 by Harriet Line, ‘Labour ‘would end in-work poverty by end of first term’. This ran

Labour will eliminate the “modern-day scourge” of in-work poverty by the end of the party’s first full term back  in office, John McDonnell is to promise. 

The shadow Chancellor will pledge to make structural changes to the economy, ensure public services are free at the point of use and provide a strong social safety net to tackle the issue if his party enters government.

Mr McDonnell is to set out his party’s plans in a speech at the launch of the Resolution Foundation’s Living Standards Audit this morning.

He will say:”Behind the concept of social mobility is the belief that poverty is OK as long as some people are given the opportunity to climb out of it, leaving the others behind.

“I reject that completely, and want to see a society with higher living standards for everyone as well as one in which nobody lacks the means to survive or has to choose between life’s essentials.”

“Without any one of these three elements, we will not be able to achieve the sustained eradication of poverty, the dramatic narrowing of inequality, and the transformation of people’s lives that will be the central purpose of the next Labour government.

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said last year that ‘in-work poverty is the problem of our times’.

“I am committing today to ending this modern-day scourge, to eliminating in-work poverty by the end of Labour’s first full parliamentary term.”

The JRF executive director, Claire Ainsley, commended Labour’s “significant ambition” as being “the right thing to do”.

She added: “Delivering this commitment should be the No 1 focus for political leaders after Brexit.”

Now expect this to be attacked by the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites. And I don’t doubt that they’re playing up about anti-Semitism in the Labour party again to try to drown out this message. It’s the precise thing they, and their masters in business, really don’t want people to hear.

All of these groups are Thatcherites to the core, and Thatcherism accepted the Neoliberal doctrine, derived from 19th century laissez-faire economics, that wages should be as low as possible. She also believed in making life harder for the unemployed in order to force them to take care of themselves, and this has been extended to other groups, like the working poor. Their poverty and poor conditions are supposed to be justified by lowering labour expenses in business, thus allowing them to become more profitable and enriching managers, proprietors and shareholders. And the constant refrain of Tories in response to complaints about low wages is that if you don’t like it, you can get another, better job elsewhere. Because the free market will supposedly also act to make employers try to remain competitive by offering the best terms and conditions to their workers. Even when the same market forces are expected to act against that very thing.

It’s Labour’s determination under Corbyn to end in-work poverty, to empower workers, giving them proper wages and restoring the welfare state after its decimation by forty years of Thatcherism, that the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites find so threatening. And Margaret Hodge let this hidden agenda behind her faction’s attack on Corbyn and his supporters out the bag a few weeks ago.

She condemned Corbyn and his supporters for offering the working class ‘bribes’, like the above, which they could never fulfill.

Which shows that Hodge and her fellows are simply died in the wool Thatcherite entryists, who have no place in a genuinely socialist, Labour party.

As for the ability of Labour to bring this about, it reminds me of a story about a young American farm boy and the Progressive Party back in the 1920 and ’30s. The Progressive Party aimed at improving conditions in rural America, where there was and is much massive poverty. Among their policies, the Party promised to build roads to every farm. The story goes that a group out in the American countryside was discussing this. They turned to a local farm boy, whom they knew was a supporter of the Progressives, and asked him if he really believed the Progressives could actually do it. The lad replied, ‘If my dog can tree it, I’ll have it’.

And Labour can end in-work poverty, despite the threats and screams from the right. 

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‘I’ Newspaper: Rail Franchise System Not Working and Needs to be Changed

February 27, 2019

I found this report in the I newspaper on our country’s failing rail network. The article states that a recent report has found that the current system of rail franchising doesn’t work and cannot continue as it is. The article, ‘Rail franchising ‘no longer delivers clear benefits’, on page 4 of today’s paper, 27th February 2019, by Neil Lancefield runs

Britain’s rail franchise system no longer delivers clear benefits and cannot continue in its current form, according to the man leading an official review of the network.

Keith Williams told industry leaders that operators were not adapting to changing consumer demands.

The contracting out of passenger services has drawn heavy criticism, with some contracts failing and customer complaints rising. The rail industry has said it accepts that the status quo cannot continue.

Mr Williams was appointed by the Government last year to lead its “root-and-branch” Rail Review. Speaking in London, he said: “I have heard a great deal about the franchising model… driving growth in passengers and benefits to services.

“But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, while many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace. Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers.”

Mr Williams said the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to franchising did not work for every part of the UK and every passenger. Delivering the annual Bradshaw Address, named in honour of George Bradshaw, the author of Victorian railway guides, he added: “I believe for the railway to be successful it needs to put passengers at its heart.”

His comments came as MPs warned that rail passengers faced “another difficult year”, with further timetable alterations and more engineering works.

Okay, this isn’t a condemnation of rail privatisation, but of the way the franchise system, in which they are given to private operators, is managed. The attitude seems to be that if this was fixed, then everything would work perfectly. As Williams says, he has heard a great deal about how franchising has driven growth in passengers and benefited service.

This is absolute rubbish. I’ve seen no evidence that privatisation has been behind the growth in passengers or brought any benefits whatsoever. You could speculate that any growth in passenger numbers may be due to a variety of factors, like the increasing cost of running a car, difficulties finding a parking space, traffic congestion and delays and other factors such as the ban on drink driving. As for the benefits of privatisation, the British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the rail network than it did when it was all under state ownership as British Rail. And the service is actually worse. It was almost 20 years ago, when I remember talking about it to a rail engineer. It was bad then, and is now even poorer. We have seen one train company after another fail, and have to be taken back into public management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and that section of the rail network is almost inevitably given to another wretched private rail company. Services are being axed, as in so much of the service industries, in order to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

It is not the franchise system that is failing, but privatisation. There is a growing movement to see the railways renationalised, and even Tories like the wretched Lady Olga Maitland have backed it at times. Labour have pledged to it, and this is one of the party’s policies that is immensely popular. But this is too much for the corporate establishment, which clearly wants to try and preserve this part of Thatcher’s grotty legacy – though the railway was actually privatised by John Major – as long as it can.

Rail privatisation, like the rest of Thatcherism, is a dismal, utter failure. Get rid of it, get rid of the Tories and renationalise them. And get Corbyn into No.10.

 

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Trickle-Down Economics

January 8, 2019

John Quiggin is an economics professor at the university of Queensland Down Under. His 2010 book, Zombie Economics, is a very thorough demolition of the economic theories that have formed the current dogma since the election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 and 1980.

One of the theories he refutes is ‘trickle-down’ economics. This is theory that if you act to give more wealth to the rich through tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, this wealth will trickle down to benefit those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It was one of the central planks of Thatcherism. And even in the 1980s, it’s effectiveness was highly dubious. I remember watching a documentary about it on the Beeb, which illustrated the theory with a pyramid of champagne glasses. When the glasses at the top of the pyramid were filled to overflowing, the champagne flowed down to the glasses lower down. So, Thatcher and her cronies claimed, their programme of free market economics would benefit everyone in society by enriching those at the top, from whom it would trickle down to the rest of us. If I remember correctly, the programme itself argued this wasn’t happening. And it hasn’t since. on pages 155 to 157 Quggin shows how the policy has not worked in America, and in fact the poor are massively poorer off. He writes

The experience of the United States during the decades of market liberalism, from the 1970s until the Global Financial Crisis, gives little support for the trickle-down view. The gross domestic product of the United States grew solidly in this period, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis , the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans grew spectacularly. Incomes at the fifth percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled.

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. As shown in figure 4.2, real median household income rose from forty-five thousand dollars to just over fifty thousand dollars between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008. The annual rate of increase was 0.4 per cent.

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages. Median real earning for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined. According to estimates made by the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual earnings of twenty-five to twenty-nine-year-old high school graduates, expressed in 2005 values, fell from #30,900 in 1970 to $25,90 in 2000, and have stagnated since then.

Since 2000, median household incomes have actually fallen, the first time in modern history that such a decline has taken place over a full business cycle. One result can be seen by looking at the proportion of households living below the poverty line. The poverty rate declined steadily during the postwar Keynsian era. It has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

Unlike most developed countries, the United States has a poverty line fixed in terms of absolute consumption levels and based on an assessment of a poverty-line food budget undertaken in 1963. The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 percent in 1974. Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 percent in 2008, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the real incomes accruing to the poorest ten percent of Americans have fallen over the last thirty years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter, and adequate medical care.

In 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics quoted by the Food Research Action Center, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as “food insecure”, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Slightly more than 17 million people (17.3 million) lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security”, which means that one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000 and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession.

The number of people without health insurance rose steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million, or 15 percent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion was reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, was eroded to the point of collapse.

Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decade of full employment, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. By contrast, in 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 percent of the homeless population were families with children.

The experience of the United States in the era of market liberalism was as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. Despite impressive technological progress, those in the middle of the income distributions struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom became worse-off in crucial respects.

(My emphasis).

Bernie Sanders in his book described just how severe the crisis in private American medical care was. It almost collapsed completely in certain states because a very large number of patients are simply unable to afford medical treatment.

And the same situation prevails here in Britain, with increasing poverty here in Britain. Millions of households now live below the poverty line, a quarter of million people need food banks to keep body and soul together, including working people with families. As Mike pointed out in a piece last week, parents are now starving themselves in order to fee their children.

The NHS is also in crisis, though for different but related reasons to those in the US. It’s in crisis because of massive funding cuts by the Tories over the last decade, and the determination of both Tory and New Labour administrations to privatise it by stealth. The introduction of private enterprise into the NHS actually raises costs, not diminishes them. It’s for the simple reason that private firms have to make a profit to pass on to their shareholders. Plus private firms also have bureaucracies of their own, which in some instances can take up 44 per cent of the firm’s income.

And added to this there is a massive increase in homelessness. But don’t worry! Yesterday, the I newspaper published a piece from the Economist telling millennials to cheer up, because in the future they’ll be able to afford their own home. Which sounds very much like simple propaganda for the current economic orthodoxy, rather than a realistic, credible prediction.

Free market capitalism has failed, despite what the press and media is trying to tell us. The Conservatives responsible for its adoption should be thrown out of government, and the Blairites who introduced it into Labour should be forced out of the positions of power they seek to monopolise. If not expelled altogether as Thatcherite entryists.

We need a genuine, socialist Labour government to clean this mess up. A government which must be led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Tony Benn on Capitalism’s Failure and Its Use as System of Class Control

January 6, 2019

I put up a long piece the other day about two books I’d bought by Tony Benn, one of which was his Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979). Benn is rightly revered as one of the great champions of socialism, democracy and working people of the late 20th and early 21st century. Reading the two books I ordered has been fascinating, because of how so much of them remain acutely relevant to what is going on now, in the last years of the second decade of the 21st century. It struck me very hard that you could open his books at random, and find a passage that would still be both highly enlightening and important.

One such passage is in the section of his book, Arguments for Socialism in the chapter dealing with the inheritance of the Labour party, where he deals with Clause IV. This was the section of the Labour party’s constitution which committed it to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. This was removed in the 1990s by Tony Blair in his desire to remodel Labour as a capitalist, Thatcherite party. Benn however fully supported nationalization and wished to see it expanded beyond the public utilities and the coal and steel industries nationalized by the Attlee and later governments. This was to be part of a genuine socialist programme to benefit and empower working people. He also argued that this was necessary because capitalism had not produced the benefits claimed by its early theorists, and was simply maintained because it was a useful instrument of class control by the capitalists themselves, particularly the financial section. Benn wrote

The phrase ‘common ownership’ is cast widely enough to embrace all forms of enterprise, including nationalized industries, municipal and co-operative enterprises, which it is envisaged should provide the basis for the control and operation of manufacturing, distribution and the banks and insurance companies.

In practice, Labour programmes and manifestos over the years have focused primarily on the great monopolies of financial, economic and industrial power which have grown out of the theoretical operation of a free market economy. For the ideas of laissez-faire and free enterprise propounded by Adam Smith and carried forward by the Manchester School of Liberal Economists until they reappeared under the new guise of monetarism, have never achieved what was claimed for them.

Today, capitalist monopolies in Britain and throughout the world have long since ‘repealed the laws of supply and demand’ and have become centres of political power concerned principally with safeguarding the financial investors who have lost the benefits of shareholder democracy and the great self-perpetuating hierarchy of managers who run them. For this purpose they control the media, engage in direct propaganda and on occasions have been found guilty of corrupt practices on a massive scale or have intervened directly to support governments that will allow them to continue their exploitation of men and materials for their own benefit. (Pp. 41-2).

This has been thoroughly proved by the last four decades of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. The shareholder democracy Thatcher tried to create through the privatisations of the ’80s and ’90s is a failure. The shares have passed out of the hands of the working class investors, who bought them, and into those of the traditional capitalist middle class. Shareholder democracy within companies has also been shown to be extremely flawed. A number of companies have spectacularly gone bankrupt because of serious mismanagement. The directors put in place to safeguard the interests of shareholders either ignored or were participants in the dodgy schemes of the managers they were supposed to supervise. Furthermore, in many companies while the numbers of workers have been cut and conditions for the remaining staff has deteriorated with lower wages, the removal of workers’ rights and zero hours contracts, management pay has skyrocketed.

And some economists are now turning against the current economic consensus. Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has shown that laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t create prosperity, economic growth and jobs. He still supports capitalism, but demonstrates that what genuinely does work to benefit countries and the majority of their people economically is state intervention. He shows the benefits of nationalization, workers’ participation in management and protectionism. The American economist, John Quiggin, has also attacked contemporary laissez-faire Thatcherite, Reaganite capitalism, arguing very clearly that it is so wrong it’s intellectually dead, but still justified and promoted by the business elites it serves. He calls it in the title of his book on it, Zombie Economics, which has the subtitle How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.

Thatcher’s much vaunted monetarism was effectively discarded even when she was in power. A friend of mine told me at College that Thatcher had quietly abandoned it to try to stimulate the economy instead through the old Keynsian methods of public works. And I can still remember the controversy that erupted in the early ’90s when Milton Friedman announced that monetarism was a failure. The Heil devoted a double-page article to the issue, one page arguing for it, the other against.

Tony Benn was right. Monetarism and the laissez-faire capitalism of Thatcher and Reagan was simply a means to entrench and give more power to the financial class. State intervention, nationalization and proper trade union representation were the way to protect the interests of working people. It’s long past time the zombie economics of the Blairites, Lib Dems and Tories was finally consigned to the grave, and a proper socialist government under Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders elected in Britain and America instead.

Adolf Hitler on Industry and Nationalisation

December 21, 2018

I’ve put up several articles making the point that the Nazis weren’t socialists, and that the promoted monopoly capitalism. However, Hitler did not want civil servants or Nazi apparatchiks to have interests in business because of the dangers of corruption. His example was the Danube Shipping Company, a private German firm which massively profited by having sitting members of the Weimar government on its board, who then awarded the company very large subsidies.

Some of Hitler’s views on the question of private industry versus nationalization can be found in his after dinner conversations, recorded by Martin Bormann, Hitler’s Table Talk (Oxford: OUP 1988). Hitler said

I absolutely insist on protecting private property.
It is natural and salutary that the individual should be inspired by the wish to devote a part of the income from his work to building up and expanding a family estate. Suppose the estate consists of a factory. I regard it as axiomatic, in the ordinary way, that this factory will be better run by one of the members of the family than it would be by a State functionary-providing, of course, that the family remains healthy. In this sense, we must encourage private initiative.

On the other hand, I’m distinctly opposed to property in the form of anonymous participation in societies of shareholders. This sort of shareholder produces no other effort but that of investing his money, and thus he becomes the chief beneficiary of other people’s effort: the workers’ zest for their job, the ideas of an engineer of genius, the skill of an experienced administrator. It’s enough for this capitalist to entrust his money to a few well-run firms, and he’s betting on a certainty. The dividends he draws are so high that they can compensate for any loss that one of these firms might perhaps cause him. I have therefore always been opposed to incomes that are purely speculative and entail no effort on the part of those who live on them.

Such gains belong by right to the nation, which alone can draw a legitimate profit from them. In this way, at least, those who create these profits – the engineers and the workers – are entitled to be the beneficiaries. In my view, joint-stock companies should pass in their entirety under the control of the State. There’s nothing to prevent the latter from replacing these shares that bring in a variable interest by debentures which it guarantees and which produce a fixed interest, in a manner useful to private people who wish to invest their savings. I see no better method of suppressing the immoral form of income, based only on speculation, of which England to-day provides the most perfect example. (pp. 362-3).

He also believed that the power industry should be nationalized in some way.

It’s obvious that the power monopoly must be vested in the State. That does not exclude the participation of private capital. The State would offer all its securities for investment by the public, which would thus be interested in the exploitation of the monopoly, or, rather, in the favourable progress of State business. The fact is that, when State affairs are not prospering, the holders of certificates can put a cross through their unearned incomes-for the various affairs in which the State is interested cannot be dissociated. The advantage of our formula would be to enable everyone to feel closely linked with State affairs. To-day, unfortunately, most people are not clear-sighted enough to realise the closeness of this link.

What is true of the power industry is equally true of all the essential primary materials – that is to say, it applies also to petroleum, coal, steel and water-power. Capitalist interests will have to be excluded from this sort of business. We do not, of course, contemplate preventing a private person from using the energy of the tiny stream that powers his small works.

In fact, Hitler was resolutely against profit-sharing and anything remotely like worker’s control in industry. He despised socialism, which he reviled as ‘Marxism’ and the trade unions. They were banned, and their members sent to the concentration camps. In their place was the Labour Front and its councils of trustees in factories, which were there to mediate between the workers and management, and to enforce the authority of the latter.

But Hitler is absolutely right about the problems of joint-stock firms. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, states that one of the problems with shareholder capitalism is that if the firm appears to be in trouble, the shareholders withdraw their money to invest in a better prospect somewhere else. This exacerbates the firm’s troubles. Those enterprises, which are either wholly or partly nationalized, or which have a degree of worker’s control, tend to be much more resilient as the state and the workforce have a greater interest in maintaining it as a ongoing concern.

As for the nationalization of the power and related industries, that was so obviously needed in Britain that when the Labour party nationalized the electricity and coal industries in late forties there was little opposition from the Tories and the Liberals.

Now Hitler’s own ideas on nationalization are very peculiar. He seems to wish to retain some aspects of capitalism after nationalization by allowing people to buy bonds in them. Or something like that. But when Margaret Thatcher was busy privatizing the utilities and everything else she was able to get her grubby mitts on, one of the leaders of the Labour party at the time also suggested that the party should instead look at schemes of issuing bonds in nationalized industries. This would also combine the perceived advantages of privatization with those of nationalization.

This scheme was suggested at the time when Maggie’s privatization programme was popular, or pretended to be. Her aim was to spread corporate ownership far beyond its traditional narrow base in the middle class, hence her reforms of the stockbroking industry. Britain was to become a capitalist nation of small investors.

This dream came to an end over a decade ago. By the early years of this century the Financial Times reported that the ordinary people at whom Thatcher had aimed her share-ownership scheme, had sold theirs and that all, or almost all of them, were once more back in the hands of major investors. In other words, the traditional, property-owning middle class.

Hitler was a monstrous tyrant, whose party plunged Europe into a war which killed forty millions, and who murdered 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million non-Jews in the hell of the concentration camps. And it shows how far wrong Thatcherite orthodox economic theory is when even he talks sense about some subjects.

Privatisation has failed. It has failed to provide the investment needed to maintain and expand the utilities and other industries, and instead any profit these firms make now go out of the country to their foreign owners. It’s about time this was ended, and the firms renationalized, with their workers given seats on the board and a role in management.

The Real News on Labour’s Plan For Nationalisation and Workplace Democracy

October 16, 2018

In this 15 minute video from the Baltimore-based The Real News network, host Aaron Mate talks to Leon Panitch, professor of political science at York University about the proposals announced at the Labour party’s conference last month that Labour intended to renationalize some of the privatized utilities, introduce profit-sharing schemes and workplace democracy in firms with over 250 members, in which 1/3 of the board would be elected by the workers.

The video includes a clip of John McDonnell announcing these policies, declaring that they are the greatest extension of economic democratic rights that this country has ever seen. He states that it starts in the workplace, and that it is undeniable that the balance of power is tipped against the worker. The result is long hours, low productivity, low pay and the insecurity of zero hours contracts. He goes on to say that Labour will redress this balance. They will honour the promise of the late Labour leader, John Smith, that workers will have full union rights from day one whether in full time, part time or temporary work. They will lift people out of poverty by setting a real living wage of ten pounds an hour.

McDonnell also says that they believe that workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and the returns that it makes. Employee ownership increases productivity and improves long-term decision making. Legislation will be passed, therefore, for large firms to transfer shares into an inclusive ownership fund. The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholders will give the workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.

Commenting on these proposals, Panitch says that in some ways they’re not surprising. McDonnell stated that Labour would inherit a mess. But his remarks were different in that usually governments use the fact that they will inherit a mess not to go through with radical policies. Panitch then talks about Labour’s commitment to bring the public utilities – rail, water, electricity, the post office – public ownership, pointing out that these used to be publicly owned before Thatcher privatized them. McDonnell particularly focused on water, before going beyond it, citing the 1918 Labour party constitution’s Clause IV, which Blair had removed. This is the clause committing the Labour party to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, under the best form of popular administration. And unlike previous nationalized industries, these will be as democratically-run as possible. Councils would be set up in the water sector made up of representatives of the local community and workers’ representatives to be a supervisory council over the managers in the nationalized water industry.

They then go to a clip of McDonnell talking about the nationalization of the utilities. McDonnell states that the renationalization of the utilities will be another extension of economic democracy. He states that this has proved its popularity in opinion poll after opinion poll. And it’s not surprising. Water privatization is a scandal. Water bills have risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatization. 18 billion pounds has been paid out in dividends. Water companies receive more in tax credits than they pay in tax. And each day enough water to meet the needs of 20 million people is lost due to leaks. ‘With figures like that’, he concludes, ‘we cannot afford not to take it back into popular ownership’.

Mate and Panitch then move on to discussing the obstacles Labour could face in putting these policies into practice, most particularly from the City of London, which Panitch describes as ‘the Wall Street of Britain’, but goes on to say that in some ways its even more central to financialized global capitalism. However, Panitch says that ‘one gets the sense’ that the British and foreign bourgeoisie have resigned themselves to these industries being brought back into public ownership. And in so far as bonds will be issued to compensate for their nationalization, McDonnell has got the commitment from them to float and sell them. He therefore believes that there won’t be much opposition on this front, even from capital. He believes that there will be more resistance to Labour trying to get finance to move from investing in property to productive industry.

He then moves on to talk about Labour’s plans for ten per cent of the stock of firms employing 250 or more people to go into a common fund, the dividends from which would passed on to the workers up to 500 pounds a year. Anything above that would be paid to the treasury as a social fund for meeting the needs of British people and communities more generally. Panitch states that this has already produced a lot of squawking from the Confederation of British Industry. Going to giving workers a third of the seats on the boards, Panitch states that it has already been said that it will lead to a flight of capital out of Britain. He discusses how this proposal can be radical but also may not be. It could lead to the workers’ representatives on these boards making alliances with the managers which are narrow and particular to that firm. The workers get caught up in the competitiveness of that firm, it stock prices and so on. He makes the point that it’s hardly the same thing as the common ownership of the means of production to have workers’ sitting on the boards of private companies, or even from workers’ funds to be owning shares and getting dividends from them. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction of socializing the economy more generally, and giving workers the capacity and encouraging them to decide what can be produced, where it’s produced, and what can be invested. And if it really scares British and foreign capital, this raises the question of whether they will have to introduce capital controls. Ultimately, would they have to bring the capital sector into the public sphere as a public utility, as finance is literally the water that forms the basis of the economy?

Mate then asks him about Labour’s refusal to hold a second referendum on Brexit, which angered some activists at the conference. Labour said that any second referendum could only be about the terms of the exit. Panitch states that people wanting Britain to remain in a capitalist Europe try to spin this as the main priority of the party’s members, even Momentum. He states that this is not the case at all, and that if you asked most delegates at the conference, most Labour members and members of Momentum, which they would prefer, a socialist Britain or a capitalist Europe, they would prefer a socialist Britain. The people leading the Remain campaign on the other hand aren’t remotely interested in a socialist Britain, and think it’s romantic nonsense at best. He states that the Corbyn leadership has said that they want a general election as they could secure an arrangement with Europe that would be progressive without necessarily being in Europe. They would accept the single market and a progressive stand on immigration rather than a reactionary one. They did not wish to endorse a referendum, which the Tories would have the power to frame the question. And this is particularly because of the xenophobic and racist atmosphere one which the initial Brexit vote was based. Panitch states that he is a great critic of the European Union, but he would have voted to remain because the debate was being led by the xenophobic right. He ends by saying that capital is afraid of the Trumps of this world, and it is because of the mess the right has made of things here in Britain with the Brexit campaign that capital might give a little bit more space for a period at least to a Corbyn government.

This latter section on Brexit is now largely obsolete because Labour has said it will support a second referendum. However, it does a good job of explaining why many Labour supporters did vote for Brexit. The editor of Lobster, Robin Ramsay, is also extremely critical of the European Union because of the way neoliberalism and a concern for capital and privatization is so much a part of its constitution.

Otherwise, these are very, very strong policies, and if they are implemented, will be a very positive step to raising people out of poverty and improving the economy. Regarding the possibility that the representatives of the workers on the company boards would ally themselves with capital against the workers, who put them there, has long been recognized by scholars discussing the issue of workers’ control of industry. It was to stop this happening that the government of the former Yugoslavia insisted that regular elections should be held with limited periods of service so that the worker-directors would rotate. Ha-Joon Chan in his books criticizing neoliberal economics also makes the points that in countries like France and Germany, where the state owns a larger proportion of firms and workers are involved in their companies through workers’ control, there is far more long-term planning and concern for the companies success. The state and the workers have a continuing, abiding interest in these firms success, which is not the case with ordinary investors, who will remove their money if they think they can get a better return elsewhere.

My concern is that these policies will be undermined by a concentrated, protracted economic warfare carried out against the Labour party and the success of these policies by capital, the CBI and the Tories, just as the Tories tried to encourage their friends in industry to do in speeches from Tweezer’s chancellors. These policies are desperately needed, but the Tory party and the CBI are eager to keep British workers, the unemployed and disabled in poverty and misery, in order to maintain their control over them and maximise profits.

Another Crisis in the Outsourcing Industry: Capita Now in Trouble

February 1, 2018

Yesterday, Mike reported on his blog that the outsourcing giant, Capita, was now in trouble. Its share price has apparently halved, knocking £1.1 billion of its stock market value. It has axed its scheme to issue £500 million in dividends to its shareholders. Instead, it intends to raise £700 million, partly by selling off parts of the company, which it needs to balance the books. There are also fears that it will make part of its 67,000 strong workforce redundant as well as concerns for the firm’s pension fund.

Mike in his article notes that the company was responsible for assessing the infamous fitness for work tests, for which the government has imposed hidden targets. One of these is that 80 per cent of reconsidered cases should be turned down. Mike therefore comments that if the crisis means that some of these assessors get a taste of what they inflicted on benefit claimants, this would be a case of poetic justice. He also wonders what the firm was doing when it devised the scheme to issue those massive dividends to its shareholders. Did they believe that the government’s magic money tree would continue to allow them to give heaps of money to their rich shareholders? He also asks other searching questions, such as whether it was deliberately underbidding to get government contracts, and then using the money to help finance those projects it had already won.

Mike concludes

So: First Carillion collapsed. Now both Interserve (remember them?) and Capita are in trouble.

Who’s next? And what will happen to public services while the Tories dither over this crisis?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/31/in-the-crap-ita-government-contractor-responsible-for-benefit-assessments-is-in-deep-financial-doo-doo/

Capita, or as Private Eye dubbed it, ‘Crapita’, has a long history of incompetence behind it. Way back in the 1990s it seemed that hardly a fortnight went by without Capita turning up in the pages of the satirical magazine. And the story was nearly always the same. The outsourcing company won a government or local authority contract to set up an IT system or run IT services. The project would then go over time and over budget, and would be massively flawed. And then a few weeks or months later, the company would be given a contract somewhere, and do exactly the same thing there.

You’re left wondering how Crapita kept winning those contracts, when it was so manifestly unfit to carry them out. Who did it have on its board? Or was there a deliberate policy by Major’s government to support outsourcing, no matter how inefficient and incompetent they were, because it was private enterprise and so preferred and supported for purely ideological reasons?

In any case, what seems to have placed the company in a very precarious financial situation is the usual tactics of big companies in this stage of capitalism: award massive dividends to the shareholders. This usually goes along with starving the rest of the company of investment, which seems to have been done to. And granting massive, and massively unsustainable pay awards to senior management. There’s no mention of that in Mike’s article, but I don’t doubt that this was done too. I’ve got the impression that it’s just about standard practice across a huge swathe of industry.

This is a financial strategy that has driven far more than one company to the wall. I also wonder if the executives weren’t also trying deliberately to create a debt, so that they could dodge corporation tax for five years. This is one of the tricks Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack describe in their book on contemporary British poverty, Breadline Britain.

Over the years the outsourcing policy has been in operation, there’s been one crisis after another. The outsourcing companies have repeatedly shown themselves to be incompetent, not just in the case of capita, but also notoriously with G4S and the scandals over the violence and brutality it meted out towards asylum seekers in the detention centres it ran. And, of course, when a whole load of prisoners escaped on their way to court. Or jail.

Private industry has repeatedly shown that it is incompetent to do the work of the state sector. These firms have the disadvantage of having to make a profit for their shareholders, as well as the demands of their management for multi-million pound pay packets. The only way they can afford this is by cutting wages to their workers, and spending as little as possible on the service they are meant to be providing. The result of this has been a series of financial collapses. Carillion was the first. Now Capita and Interserve, another outsourcing company, is in similar trouble.

The only sensible recourse should be to cancel these companies’ contracts, and take everything back in-house. But this won’t be done. I think there’s a problem in that the state sector has been so decimated by the past four decades of Thatcherism, that it no longer has the capacity to run these services itself. There’s also the additional problem that too many politicians and media magnates have connections to these companies, or to firms in a similar position hoping for government contracts. Acknowledging that outsourcing was a failure would damage the interests of these politicos and press barons. There’s also the challenge of actually facing up to the fact that a central plank of Thatcherite dogma – that private enterprise is always more efficient than the state – is absolutely, undeniably wrong. Anybody who makes this point is denounced as a Communist in screaming headlines. You only have to look at the way the Tory press has vilified Jeremy Corbyn for daring to want to renationalise the NHS, the electricity net and the railways. His policies are very far from the total nationalisation demanded by Communists and Trotskyites, but you wouldn’t know it from the frothing abuse hurled in his direction by the Tories and Blairites.

There’s also another problem with calling an end to the outsourcing scam. PFI contracts and outsourcing allow some of the costs to be written off the official government accounts sheet. They’re still there, and we have to keep paying them, but they’re not included in the official figures. It’s why Mussolini used a similar scam when he was Duce of Fascist Italy. Any government that restores these projects to the way they were handled before risks putting millions back the official figures. And if that’s the Labour party, you can imagine the Tories making their usual hackneyed and untrue comments about ‘high-spending Labour’, and then re-iterating the spurious arguments for austerity.

I’ve no doubt that the government will do what it can to shore up the current mess the outsourcing companies are in. But the collapse of Carillion and now the severe financial troubles faced by Capita and Interserve show that outsourcing does not work. And given these companies’ highly checkered history, they should never have been given governments to begin with.

And it bears out exactly the description the author of Zombie Economics used for them in the very title of his book. Outsourcing, and the rest of the Thatcherite economic strategy of privatisation, wage restraint, low taxation and declining welfare are ‘zombie economics’ as they don’t work, but haven’t yet been put it into the grave.

It’s high time they were, and Thatcherite free trade capitalism was abandoned as the failure it so glaringly is.

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.

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

January 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control In Yugoslavia: Part 3 – My Conclusion

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 2.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post I described the contents of the above Fabian pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham, published in 1963.

The authors attempted to show how, despite a very lukewarm attitude to the idea at the time, workers’ control could be a viable possibility for British industry. The authors’ noted that the very limited gesture towards worker participation in the nationalised industries had not gained the enthusiasm of the workforce, and in the previous decade the Tories had had some success in attacking the nationalised industries and nationalisation itself.

They argued that there was a tradition within the British Labour movement for workers’ control in the shape of the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionism. The Fabians, who had largely advocated central planning at the expense of industrial democracy, had nevertheless put forward their own ideas for it. Annie Besant, the Theosophist and feminist, had argued that the workers in an industry should elect a council, which would appoint the management and foreman. This is quite close to the Yugoslav model, in which enterprises were governed through a series of factory boards elected by the workers, which also exercised a degree of control over the director and management staff.

The pamphlet was clearly written at a time when the unions were assuming a role of partnership in the nationalised industries, and had agreed to pay pauses. These were a temporary break in the round of annual pay rises negotiated by the government and management as a means of curbing inflation. This actually runs against Tory rhetoric that Britain was exceptionally beset by strikes – which has been challenged and rebutted before by British historians of the working class – and the unions were irresponsible.

The role of the factory or enterprise council in taking management decisions, rather than the trade unions in Yugoslav worker’s control also means that the trade unions could still preserve their independence and oppositional role, working to defend the rights of the workforce as a whole and present the grievances of individual workers.

The two authors acknowledge that there are problems of scale involved, in that the Yugoslav system was obviously developed to suit conditions in that nation, where there was a multiplicity of small enterprises, rather than the much larger industrial concerns of the more developed British economy. But even there they suggest that these problems may not be insuperable. Management now consists of selecting for one out of a range of options, that have already been suggested by technical staff and planners, and the experience of the co-operative movement has shown that firms can be run by elected boards. Much of the idea that management can only be effectively performed by autocratic directors or management boards may actually be just a myth that has developed to justify the concentration of power in their hands, rather than allow it to be also held by the workers.

They also note that the Yugoslav model also shows that the participation of workers in industrial management can lead to greater productivity. Indeed, the South Korean economist and lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, in his books has shown that those industries which are wholly or partly owned by the state, or where the workers participate in management, are more stable and long-lasting than those that are run purely for the benefit of the shareholders. This is because the state and the workforce have a vested commitment to them, which shareholders don’t have. They will abandon one firm to invest in another, which offers larger dividends. And this has meant that some firms have gone bust selling off valuable assets and downsizing simply to keep the shares and, correspondingly, the managers’ salaries, artificially high.

They also present a good argument for showing that if workers’ control was implemented, the other parties would also have to take it up and preserve it. At the time they were writing, the Liberals were talking about ‘syndicalism’ while the Tories promised an Industrial Charter. This never materialised, just as Theresa May’s promise to put workers on the boards of industry was no more than hot air.

But some indication of how popular genuine worker participation in management might be is also shown, paradoxically, by Thatcher’s privatisations in the 1980s. Thatcher presented herself falsely as some kind of heroine of the working class, despite the fact that she was very solidly middle, and personally had nothing but contempt for the working class and working class organisations. Some of that image came from her talking about her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. Another aspect was that in her privatisation of the utilities, she tried to persuade people that at last they too could be shareholders in industry. This was not only to the general public, but also to workers in those industries, who were offered shares in the newly privatised companies.

This experiment in popular capitalism, just like the rest of Thatcherism, is a total colossal failure. Newspaper reports have shown that the shares have largely passed out of the hands of working class shareholders, and are now back in the hands of the middle classes. As you could almost predict.

But the process does show how what popularity it initially had depended on Thatcher stealing some of the ideological guise for privatisation from Socialism. She had to make it seem that they would have a vested interest in their industries, albeit through holding shares rather than direct participation in management. She had no wish to empower the workers, as is amply shown by her determination to break the unions and destroy employees’ rights in the workplace. But her programme of popular capitalism depended on making it appear they would gain some position of power as individual shareholders.

The performance of the utilities following privatisation has shown that they are not better off under private management, regardless of the bilge spewed by the Tories and the Blairites in the Labour party. Under private management, these vital industries have been starved of investment, while the managers’ salaries and share price have been kept high again through cuts and increased prices. It is high time they were renationalised. And the nation knows this, hence the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

And it’s possible that, if it was done properly, the incorporation of a system of worker participation in the management of these industries could create a real popular enthusiasm for them that would prevent further privatisation in the future, or make it more difficult. Who knows, if it had been done properly in the past, perhaps we would now have a proper functioning steel and coal industry, as well as the other vital services like rail, electricity, gas and water.