Posts Tagged ‘Shops’

Let’s Get Fascist with Neoliberal Corporatism

August 1, 2016

By which I certainly don’t mean supporting racism, xenophobia, genocide and the destruction of democracy, or vile, strutting dictators.

British and American politics are now dominated to an overwhelming extent by the interests of corporations and big business. Corporations in America sponsor and donate handsomely to the campaign funding of congressmen and -women, who return the favour, passing legislation and blocking other acts to the benefit of their corporate sponsors. I put up a piece a little while ago from the radical internet news service, Democracy Now!, reporting on how funding by the Koch brothers has resulted in policies that massively favour the oil industry, against the Green movement and efforts to combat climate change. Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is also part of this corrupt web. She sits a number of leading American companies, and was paid something like a quarter of a million dollars for speeches she made to Wall Street. This has had a demonstrable effect on her policies, which strongly favour big business and, naturally, the financial sector. This corruption of American democracy ultimately goes back to the 1970s, when a court ruled that sponsorship by a corporation constituted free speech under the law, thus undermining the legislation that had existed for over 150 years against it. After about forty years of corporate encroachment on the res publica, the result is that America is no longer a democracy. A recent report by Harvard University concluded that the nation had become an oligarchy. This is reflected by the low rating of Congress in polls of the American public. These have shown that only about 14% of Americans are happy that their parliament represents them.

This situation is no different over here, although the corruption has been going on for much longer. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymous author of the 1944 book, Your MP, detailed the various Tory MPs who were the owners or managers of companies. Earlier this evening I posted piece about the recent publication of a book, Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics, which revealed that British MPs have about 2,800 directorships in 2,450 companies. It’s blurb states that MPs are not working for the general public. They are working for these companies. Nearly a decade or so ago, George Monbiot said pretty much the same in his book, Corporate State, as he investigated the way outsourcing, privatisation and the Private Finance Initiative meant that the state was increasingly in retreat before the encroachment of corporate power, which was now taking over its functions, and official policies were designed to support and promote this expansion. This has meant, for example, that local councils have supported the construction of supermarkets for the great chains, like Sainsbury’s, despite the wishes of their communities, and the destructive effects this has on local traders, shopkeepers and farmers.

In America, there is a growing movement to end this. One California businessman has set up a campaign, ‘California Is Not For Sale’, demanding that Congressmen, who are sponsored by corporations, should wear sponsorship logos exactly like sportsmen. In my last blog post, I put up an interview between Jimmy Dore, a comedian with The Young Turks, and David Cobb, the Outreach Officer with Move to Amend, a campaign group with 410,000 members across America, working to remove corporate sponsorship.

As I’ve blogged before, we desperately need a similar campaign in Britain. But it would be strongly resisted. Tony Blair’s New Labour was notorious for its soft corruption, with Peter Mandelson’s notorious statement that the party was ‘extremely relaxed about getting rich’. The Tories are no better, and in many ways much worse. When this issue was raised a few years ago, a leading Tory dismissed it with the statement that the Tory party was the party of business. David Cameron pretended to tackle the problem of political lobbying, but this was intended to remove and limit political campaigning by charities, trade unions and other opposition groups, leaving the big lobbying companies and the Tories’ traditional corporate backers untouched.

This corporate domination of politics and the legislature has been termed ‘corporatism’. This also harks back to the corporate state, one of the constitutional changes introduced in Italy by the Fascists under Mussolini. This was partly developed from the Italian revolutionary syndicalist tradition. The corporations were supposed to be a modern form of the medieval guilds. They consisted of both the employer’s organisations and the trade unions for particular industries, and were responsible for setting terms and conditions. Parliament was abolished and replaced with a council of corporations. Mussolini made much of this system, arguing that it had created social peace, and that it made Fascism a new political and economic system, neither Socialist nor capitalist.

In fact, the corporate state was nothing more than ideological camouflage to hide the fact that Fascism rested on brute force and the personal dictatorship of Mussolini. The power of trade unions was strictly subordinated to the control of the industrialists and the Fascist party. The Council of Corporations had no legislative power, and was really just there to rubber stamp Musso’s decisions.

But if the Tories and big business want a corporate state, perhaps they should get a corporate state, though following the more radical ideas of Fascist theorists like Ugo Spirito. Spirito was a philosophy professor, teaching at a number of Italian universities, including Genoa, Messina, Pisa and Rome. At the Ferrara Congress on Corporative Studies, held in May 1932, he outraged the Fascist leadership and conservatives by arguing that the Corporate state had resulted in property acquiring a new meaning. In the corporations, capital and labour would eventually merge in the large corporations, and their ownership would similarly pass from the shareholders to the producers, who manage it based on their industrial expertise. It was attacked as ‘Bolshevik’, and Spirito himself later described it as ‘Communist’. Despite the denunciations, it was popular among university students, who wanted the Fascist party to return to its radical Left programme of 1919.

If we are to have a corporate state with industrialists represented in parliament, as so promoted by neoliberal politicians, we should also include the workers and employees in those industries. For every company director elected to parliament, there should be one or more employees elected by the trade unions to represent the workforce. And as another Fascist, Augusto Turati argued, there should be more employee representatives elected than those of the employers because there are more workers than managers.

And as the outsourcing companies are performing the functions of the state, and those captains of industry elected to parliament are also representatives of their companies, these enterprises should be subject to the same public oversight as state industries. Their accounts and the minutes of their meetings should be a matter of public record and inspection. Considerations of commercial secrecy should not apply, because of the immense responsibility they have and the importance of their duties to the public, particularly as it affects the administration of the welfare state, the health service, and the prison and immigration system.

On the other hand, if this is too ‘Socialist’, then industry should get out of parliament and stop perverting democracy for its own ends and inflicting poverty and hardship of the rest of us.

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Book Review: G.D.H. Cole’s A Century of Co-Operation

July 2, 2016

Cooperative Cole

(George Allen & Unwin Ltd. for the Co-operative Union Ltd 1944).

Many of us of a certain age still remember the Co-op before it became a regular supermarket chain. It was a store in which regular shoppers – the co-op’s members, were also it’s owners, and entitled to receive a share of the profits. This meant that you were paid a dividend. This was later issued in the form of ‘Green Shield’ stamps, which could be used to buy further goods in the stores. The co-operative movement was founded way back in the 1840s by the Rochdale Pioneers, former members of Robert Owen’s socialist movement. After this had collapsed, the Pioneers then went on to apply his socialist principles to running retail stores. The movement rapidly caught on and expanded, not least because, unlike ordinary shops, the co-ops sold pure food without the poisonous substances added elsewhere. For example, many bakers added arsenic to their bread to make it whiter, and more attractive to the purchaser. The co-ops didn’t, and so their food and goods was healthier, and thus more popular. Unlike their competitors, you could be fairly sure that what you bought from the co-op wouldn’t kill you in the name of making it appear more tasty. By 1942 there were 1,058 co-operative retail societies, with a total membership of 8,925,000 – just shy of 9 million people.

I found this book on the history of the movement in one of the charity bookshops in Bristol. It’s by the great socialist and writer, G.D.H. Cole, who was one of the leading members of Guild Socialism, a British form of syndicalism, which recommended the abolition of the state and its replacement with a system of guilds – trade unions, which would include all the workers in an industry, and which would run industry and the economy. Instead of parliament, there would be something like the TUC, which would also have administrative organs to protect the consumer.

The book’s chapters include:
I: “The Hungry ‘Forties'”,
II: Co-operation before the Pioneers
II. Rochdale.
IV. The Rochdale Pioneers Begin.
V. The Rochdale Pioneers to 1874.
VI Christian Socialists, Redemptionists, and Trade Unions
VII. Co-operation and the Law.
VIII. The Origins of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society
IX. Co-operative Growth in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
X. The Second Revolution.
XI. The ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
XII. The Women’s Guild.
XIII. Co-operators and Education.
XIV. Co-operation in Agriculture – Ireland: The Beginning of International Co-operation.
XV. Co-operation before and during the First World War.
XVI. From War to War.
XVII. Guild Socialism and the Building Guilds
XVIII. Co-operative Development between the Wars.
XIX. Co-operators in Politics.
XX. Co-operative Employment.
XXI. International Co-operation.
XXII Co-operation Today and Tomorrow
I. the Growth of Co-operation.
ii. The Development of Co-operative Trade.
iii. Large and Small Societies.
iv. Democratic Control.
v. Regional Strength and Weakness.
vi. Co-operative Education.
vii. The producers’ Societies.
viii. The Wholesales and Production.
ix. The Next Steps.

Appendix: Who Were the Pioneers?

Cole notes that some forms of what became known as co-operation existed in various trades and businesses before the Rochdale Pioneers. Some of the capital used to set up businesses in the early 19th century, came from the workers. They tended to invest in other businesses’ than their employers, so that if their wages were cut during a recession or dip in trade, the dividends they would receive from their shares would not also suffer. Although not remarked on in the book, you could say that this shows how the working class has been disinherited. In many cases, they contributed their savings and money to the development of capitalism, but despite the existence in some firms of profit-sharing schemes, they have been and are being excluded from the profits of the modern, industrial economy.

From industry, co-operation also entered politics, with the establishment of a Co-operative Party, which is now part of the Labour party. The movement spread across Europe, to Germany and as far as Russia. Lenin was greatly impressed by the value of the co-operatives as a form of socialism. According to Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s chief economist for perestroika, before 1950 47 per cent of all industries, including farms in the USSR were co-ops. Industrial democracy and co-operatives were a central plank of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unfortunately, Gorby’s attempts to revive Communism failed, and Yeltsin turned them into bog-standard capitalist companies through the voucher system. Other thinkers and politicians in other countries saw co-operation as the solution to their countries’ social and economic problems. One of these was the Bulgarian Stambolisky, the leader of a peasant’s party before the First World War. He wished to organise the peasant farms into a system of co-operation, which would modernise the country by allowing them to acquire electricity and improve production and conditions. More recently, the Mondragon co-operatives, set up in Spain by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, has become an industrial giant, involved in just about all areas of the Spanish economy.

Cole’s book understandably concentrates on the history of the co-operative movement from its emergence to the middle of the Second World War, and is an immensely detailed and thorough work of scholarship. Although not as prominent as they once were, co-operative businesses still exist in Britain. They were supported in the 1970s and ’80s by politicos like the great Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, and may once again become a major force in British society and the economy.

Naz Shah, the Anti-Semitism Allegations, and ‘Apartheid Israel’

May 3, 2016

Mike’s put up another worthwhile post over at Vox Political, pointing out that the graphic that got Naz Shah into trouble with accusations of anti-Semitism, was not in fact anything of the sort. It came from a global civil rights site, Redress, and reblogged by Norman Finkelstein. Redress posted it up as a joke, satirising Israeli attempts to have the Palestinians displaced to the other Arab states. Mike records his email conversation with the prof, who pointed out that while people in America are crazy when it comes to Israel, they haven’t lost their sense of humour. He also points out that Bernie Sanders, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election, is Jewish and had enormous support amongst Arab-Muslims in the Land of the Free. He also wondered what had happened to us in Britain and why we were allowing Labour hacks and the Israel lobby to persecute her, a Muslim Labour MP.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/03/this-revelation-could-throw-the-whole-anti-semitism-row-into-reverse/

It’s a good point. And I wonder to what extent the ‘British sense of humour’ is a myth, when politics in Britain is becoming increasingly angry, and when so much British history is full of anger and violence. The creation of the British Empire, and the use of extreme force to maintain it, such as against the Mao-Mao in Kenya, is a case in point.

Now I have the impression that Naz Shah posted the graphic as part of a piece on ‘Apartheid Israel’, which included a quotation about the treatment of Blacks in America from that well-known apologist for racial supremacy, Dr Martin Luther King. Now on this, Madam Shah has a point. Life is made very difficult for the Palestinians in Israel through a system of pass laws and physical barriers that simply don’t exist for Jewish Israelis. William Dalrymple describes this system of discrimination in his book, In Xanadu: A Quest (London: Flamingo 1990). This is a travel book about how he attempted to travel from Israel to China and thence Mongolia, following the route used by the great 13th century Venetian explorer, Marco Polo during a summer holiday while at Oxford. In it, he describes a conversation he had drinking tea with an Arab tailor in Acre, who told him about the difficulties he faced as an Arab in Israel.

As we left the Khan al-Afranj we were invited into the shop of an Arab terzi (tailor). There we drank cay and talked about the problems of the Arabs in Acre; then as now, better integrated than most places. Ibn Jubayr remarked on this in the twelfth century while Hamoudi, who exhibited all the vices of the West in one body, is evidence of it today. The terzi was a tall man, unshaven, shambolic and friendly. But when I asked him about his relations with the Jews he was surprisingly eloquent.

‘We live in peace in Acre,’ he said. ‘He the Jew and the Arab are friends. On Saturday nights the Jews come here, play cards, smoke and drink coffee. The people want peace. Only the government does not.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We live here under an undeclared apartheid. It is just like South Africa. For the Jews there is democracy. They have freedom of speech, they can vote for whichever government they like, can go where they like and talk to whom they like. For us it is different. We are here on sufferance. We are called into police stations, if we are heard talking about politics. We are never sure we will get justice in court: if we have a plea against a Jew, then probably we will not. We are not allowed to join the army in case we turn sides. Because of this we cannot get any good jobs; for these you need security clearance. Most of us end up washing dishes or working as manual labourers; if you are luck you can become a garbage collector.’

He laughed and sent a boy off to go and get some more tea.

‘You see this shop? It belonged to my father before 1948, yet now I have to pay rent to the town council for it. If I was a Jew I would be given it, free. The taxes for us are very high. Many of the young – they are very angry. If this was their government they would not mind. But they do not want to pay the tax which will buy the tank which will kill their brother Arabs. It also means we cannot compete with the Jewish shopkeepers. They do not pay rents for their property so they can sell everything cheaper than us. The Israeli government does nothing for our people.’

‘What do you think will happen?’ asked Laura.

‘How do I know? Some Arabs say: this is Palestine we must kick the Jews out. Also there are many Jews who call us dogs, animals. They say: we must clear the land of the Arabs. Both are wrong. We are both human. We both need to live. We must live together.’

The boy turned and handed round the cups. It was mint tea. When he was ready the terzi continued:

‘Every morning I think that there could be peace. When I open the shop up in the morning Jews will drink coffee with me. Sometimes if I have a problem with my telephone, my Jewish friend will say: use mine. Many of them are such lovely people. If only we could live in peace with them and there were no fighting, no killing.’ (pp. 24-5).

The comparison with apartheid South Africa and the segregated US south is particularly close, as in the 1970s Israel became allied with White South Africa. They also collaborated with the US in sending military aid to the South American Fascist states and their death squads.

I also understand that Madam Shah has the support of her local synagogue. Generally speaking, people, regardless of their racial or religious origins, don’t usually give their support to their bitter enemies. Also, when she retweeted the graphic was therefore making a perfectly reasonable point about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. She should not be falsely accused of anti-Semitism simply because of her views on this issue.

Elections and the Communist Democracy of Gracchus Babeuf

April 30, 2016

On Thursday we go to the polls again. In Bristol, the elections are partly about deciding who is to be the new elected mayor. The Tories were very keen to introduce this idea from America into Britain, along with elected Police and Crime Commissioners. I find the name of the latter post rather amusing, rather like the term ‘solicitor’ for a type of lawyer, when the term ‘soliciting’ is also used to describe the attempt to procure sexual favours illegally. A Crime Commissioner sounds exactly the opposite of the job it describes. The term ‘commission’ is, after all, used to describe the process by which someone or an organisation hires someone else to perform a task. Like a government or company may commission a report. A Police and Crime Commissioner therefore sounds like someone, who not only hires the police, but also arranges to hire the criminals to commit the crimes.

Of course, this was all part of the Tories’ localism campaign, which was ostensibly about extending democracy and creating a quasi-anarchistic society through privatising everything, and trying to get volunteers to run local services, like libraries, unpaid. While throwing the unemployed and disabled off social security for the sake of giving tax cuts to billionaires.

I doubt somehow the Tories would be quite so keen on democracy if it came in the totalitarian form envisaged by ‘Gracchus’ Babeuf. Babeuf was a French Revolutionary, who was executed, along with his comrades, for trying to organise a Communist revolution, the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’, to overthrow the liberal regime of the Revolutionary state. Babeuf wanted the state to own all property, but unlike the later Marxist Communist states, elections would still be held. These would include not only political authorities, like the local and national governments, but also for the posts running businesses, including local shops.

The Tories aren’t keen on democracy at the best of times. Their electoral reforms, which were supposed to be passed to prevent voter fraud, are modelled on American legislation, which one Southern US government admitted was to stop the Democrats’ supporters – young people, the poor and Blacks, from voting. They really wouldn’t want democracy if that meant people could elect everything, including who ran the local corner shop. And they definitely don’t the workers having anything to do with the way their businesses are run.

The Chartists’ Shops to Punish Opposing Shopkeepers

April 25, 2016

I spent this weekend reading up on the Chartists. This was the early 19th century movement, which roughly ran for the decade between 1837 and 1848, which campaigned for the vote for every working man. There were also female Chartist organisations, and some Chartists were so radical as to wish to extend the franchise to women. It had a very mixed membership ideologically. Some were Socialists, others supporters of Free Trade. Some wanted the repeal of the Corn Law, while some were for keeping them. Many were against the New Poor Law and the Workhouses, but some, like Francis Place, supported it. There were Christian Chartists and atheist Chartists. Some, like Richard Oastler, were Tories, others Liberal. It has been regarded as a kind of early Labour party. This view has since been challenged, but certainly the Labour party politicians, who won the 1945 General Election saw themselves very much as part of the same tradition of working class political radicalism, and the contemporary heirs of the Chartists, as well as Tom Paine, the author of the Rights of Man.

Some Chartists believed, like Marx, that ‘the emancipation of the working class should be the task of the working class’, and wished to avoid contaminating the movement with contacts with the middle classes, who they felt would betray them. Nevertheless, the movement did have many middle class supporters, including Anglican priests, Nonconformist ministers, factory masters, and so on. One of the tactics the Chartists used, which I found particularly interesting, was that they opened shops to compete with and punish those shopkeepers that opposed the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi.

The British working and lower middle classes are again becoming disenfranchised in the 21st century. And some of this is through the tactics used by the rich supermarkets to drive the small shopkeeper out of business, screw their suppliers, and drive down wages for employees. Quite apart from the various businesses that exploit unpaid workers under the ‘workfare’ system.

I think it would be superb if someone could come up with a similar system of shops to compete and punish these businesses, but I’m not sure how it could be done at a time of depression, when 4.7 million of us are in ‘food poverty’, and the trade unions are fighting for survival. The anarchists have tried similarly tactics, and these generally have failed. But perhaps there is a way. If there is, then it’s one I’d like to see pursued.

George Monbiot on the Supermarkets’ Decimation of the Small Businesses

April 19, 2016

I’ve just started reading George Monbiot’s Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (London: Pan MacMillan 2000), about how our country was taken over politically and economically by the big corporations. One of the chapters, is entitled ‘Economic Cleansing – How the Supermarkets Conquered Britain’. This opens by describing how Brecon’s thriving independent shops and small businesses were decimated when the Parks Authority, which governs the town, decided to back the construction of a new Safeways on the site of the town’s livestock market. Knowing some of the farmers in the area, I found this particularly interesting. The farmers were complaining about how they were being driven out of business by the predatory pricing of the big supermarkets. This is true and still very much an issue for farming communities. And Monbiot gives the stats on how small businesses up and down the country are being ruined by the large supermarkets.

During the 1990s, according to the consultancy Verdict, the number of specialist shops like Brian Keylock’s [a butcher featured in the chapter] fell by 22 per cent in Britain. The smallest ones were hit hardest: between 1990 and 1996, shops with annual sales of less than £100,000 declined by 36 per cent. Between 1986 and 1997, by contrast, superstore numbers rose from 457 to 1,102. While most towns have suffered substantial losses, the impact has been even greater in the countryside: at the end of 1997 the Rural Development Commission revealed that 42 per cent of rural parishes no longer possessed a shop.

This is plainly not due to an overall reduction in trade: between 1992 and 1997 retail food sales in Britain increased by £18.6bn, or 30 per cent. But while small shops lost 8.5 per cent of their trade between 1990 and 1996, large retailers gained 18 per cent. The two trends – of the decline in small independent shops and the expansion of the superstore chains – appear to be linked.

In 1998, the government published the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of superstores ever undertaken. Its findings were unequivocal. Food shops in market towns lost between 13 and 50 per cent of their trade when a supermarket opened at the edge of the town centre or out of town. The result is ‘the closure of some town centre food retailers; increases in vacancy levels; and a general decline in the quality of the environment of the centre … Even where town centre food retailers suffer an impact, but do not subsequently close, there may still be a concern that this will lead to a general decline in activity elsewhere in the centre, and adversely affect the vitality and viability of the centre.’ (p. 169).

A few days ago I signed a petition put up by Adam Bernstein, a small businessman in London, who runs a Jewish deli. Mr Bernstein was concerned at the way businesses like his were being driven out of the capital by the big stores. He wanted the government to appoint a ‘small business czar’ to protect this nation’s Arkwrights. He’s absolutely right. The s-s-small businessmen of the kind shown in the classic TV comedy, Open All Hours, are under threat. Monbiot quotes the retailers in Brecon as saying that there’s a sense of community there that’s been created by them, as people talk when they come into the shop. He’s right, and shows like Open All Hours are undoubtedly popular partly because they do celebrate the sense of community created by such small businesses. Even when they’re run by notoriously mean grotesques like Arkwright, and now his nephew and protégé, Granville. But this is being destroyed for the corporate profits of our politicos’ paymasters. Millions of people across the UK dream of running their own business. For many men, it’s the idea of owning a garage fixing cars and bikes. But this is being taken away from them by a series of governments that have consistently favoured big business, no matter what platitudes they’ve spouted about the value of the small, independent businessman and woman. And Monbiot has supplied the stats to prove it.

Once upon a time, Maggie Thatcher made much about how she was ‘working class’ because her father owned a shop. She wasn’t working class, of course. She was petit bourgeois, lower middle class. And she, and the Conservative administrations after her, including Blair in New Labour, have done neither the working nor lower middle classes any good. As a result, our high streets are dying, our sense of community is being lost, and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, as the businesses that bridge that gulf are being forced into liquidation.

This desperately needs to change. I noticed from Mike’s blog that Labour in Wales are promising tax cuts to the small businessman, and an investment bank for Wales to offer credit to micro, small and medium businesses. These seem to me to be sound policies. But we also need to get the corporate rich out of politics, so the working and lower middle classes aren’t impoverished by Cameron’s and Bliar’s friends in big business.

Vox Political on the Return of Victorian Diseases in 21st Century Britain

November 1, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has an article on the return of diseases, such as rickets, which were rife in 19th century Britain due to malnutrition, bad sanitation, overcrowding and generally poor conditions. He reports that Samuel Miller, a researcher into social security and one of his commenters, would like this investigated. His article begins with the answer to the question posed by its title, Will the Tories ever admit their ‘welfare reforms’ are reviving Victorian diseases?

Social security researcher and commenter Samuel Miller thinks they are.

He wants health authorities in the UK to investigate whether the return of diseases linked to poverty – and to the Victorian era – such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets and whooping cough.

This Writer flagged up the possibility as long ago as October 2013, after the UK’s chief medical officer formally announced the return of rickets.

I wrote: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritinal value?”

Despite Tory claims that the UK is in better shape than it has been in years, it seems clear that these health issues are getting worse.

His comments about people in the low income groups having to feed their families on foods with poor nutritional value, simply because they can’t afford anything, is entirely correct. Remember when Jamie Oliver did a series on Channel 4 attempting to teach a town oop north to cook properly, because some survey or other had shown it was the place where the most people stuffed themselves and their children with chips and burgers? One of the most revealing pieces of that programme was when one woman burst into tears, explaining that the reason she fed her children such low-grade comfort food was simply because there weren’t any shops near her, which sold the green veg and wholesome meat cuts he was demanding.

You think of the way traditional greengrocers and butchers, like Jones’ is the favourite TV show, Dad’s Army, have disappeared from our high streets, driven out by vast supermarkets like ASDA or Sainsbury’s. These have their advantages in terms of choice and so on, but for many people they can only be reached by car, rather than a simple walk down the road like the traditional shops. In many instances, all that remembers of local food shops is the fish and chip or Chinese or Indian take away.

Not that you can expect the Tories, or probably anyone else to do anything about it, as they’re too busy receiving donations from the supermarkets to ever want to change their policies. I’ve no doubt that there may be other solutions, such as making sure there’s proper access to supermarkets by bus, but that also means interfering in another local service, which the Tories and the rest of them have told us would be improved by its deregulation by Maggie back in the 1980s.

And so it’s far easier for the government to put an extra tax on sugar, and claim they’re doing something about the ‘obesity epidemic’, than to tackle the problem of malnutrition and even starvation in its entirety.

And no, I don’t think you’ll ever hear any of the Tories confess to a link between their social security policies and the return of Victorian diseases like rickets. That would contradict all the lies Ian Duncan Smith has been telling us about how no-one’s really poor in Britain, and the only people using food banks are scroungers and malingerers, who are doing so out of choice.

Shop Charges Tory Customers Extra

May 12, 2015

This is another excellent little pic I found over on the SlatUKIP Facebook page.

Tory Shop Tax

If you can’t read it, the text says

Important Notice

Please could anyone who voted Conservative please identify themselves on entering my shop as I will be happy to apply a 10 % ‘Tory Tax’ on your plants. I’m sure as someone who has opted to support a party of elitist, self-serving types, that you understand that this is one of the many ‘tough’ decisions that I need to make to ‘balance the books’ under your preferred government.

Don’t be a shy Tory! Oh, and UKIP voters, please shop elsewhere.

Thanks, Matt.

It’s a great piece of satire, skewering all the Tory rhetoric of making ‘tough’ decisions to ‘balance the books’.

It also bears out a piece Tom Pride put up last week, shortly before he decided to take a break from blogging. Most small businessmen don’t vote Tory, as the Thatcherites would like us to believe. They support Labour.

Arkwright has crossed the electoral floor, so to speak, and now sees the threat to the s-s-small businessman as coming from big business, rather than organised Labour and the unions.

And so falls another Thatcherite myth, of Maggie as the workers’ friend, living above her father’s shop. She was never their friend, and the small businessmen in whose interest she claimed to champion, have turned their back on her after being thoroughly betrayed and ground down by her party of the rich and big business.

Vox Political on the Rise in Suicide under the Tories

February 21, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this article, The UK’s main growth area continues to be SUICIDE, reporting the rise in suicide under the Tories. The article begins

The Office for National Statistics has released the latest figures on suicide, which show that the proportion of people taking their own lives has grown faster than the UK economy.

The statistics cover the calendar year 2013, when the economy grew by 1.7 per cent – but suicides increased by more than double that amount – four per cent. This writer has seen unconfirmed estimates that suggest a rise of 12-13 per cent since the Coalition Government took office in 2010 – that’s up by one-eighth.

The mail suicide rate in 2013 was the highest since 2001, at 19 per 100,000 members of the population. This was almost four times higher than the female rate (5.1 per 100,000), which has stayed constant.

As Vox Political reported back in 2012, suicide continues to be the most reliable indicator of the UK’s true economic activity: The highest suicide rate among the English regions was in North East England, at 13.8 deaths per 100,000 population, while London had the lowest at 7.9 per 100,000. The Northeast has been one of the areas hardest-hit by the banker-engineered recession and Tory-engineered cuts (if not the hardest-hit altogether); London has benefited the most from government investment.

Mike reproduces the graph figures, and shows that most of the victims are late middle aged men, who stand little chance of finding work after being made redundant.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/20/the-uks-main-growth-area-continues-to-be-suicide/. Go and read it.

The male suicide rate has gradually overtaken the female since the 1970s. As Mike’s commenters point out, there are a number of personal, emotional reasons why men try to kill themselves, rather than seek help for depression. Part of this may be due to some aspects of the traditional conception of masculinity: rather than show weakness, men suffer in silence until it becomes too great to be borne. Also, women tend to have better social networks than blokes, and this helps to share the misery and give them support.

The Faily Heil also covered this topic over two decades ago, and as you could expect from this newspaper, it decided that part of the problem was the emasculating effect of modern feminism and the entry of women into the workplace.

In fact, I don’t think it can be reasonably doubted that the social and economic changes put into practice by the Coalition have contributed to the growth in suicide. The massive de-industrialisation committed by the Tories meant that many were thrown out on the dole with little chance of getting another. Without a pool of reasonably well-paid workers to purchase their products, local businesses also die. And this is apart from the failure of many high street shops to compete with on-line retailers. The result is the landscape of depressed, struggling towns up and down the country, and high streets lined with empty shop fronts. It’s an environment that creates despair.

Added to this is the harsh misery created by the government’s own workfare programmes, which are designed to make you feel miserable and helpless.

And behind all this is the Conservative conception of society itself. This is the liberal, ideal of society as composed of rational, competing individuals. It’s the Hobbesian view of human society, not as communities made up people bonded together by shared occupations and interests, but simply composed of alienated social atoms, waging ‘the war of each against all’.

A little while ago researchers looked at the incidence of heart disease. By looking at Civil Service records, they found that the groups that suffered the most were the people at the bottom of the employment ladder. Those at the top remained in good health. This really is no surprise, as if you’re at the very bottom of the ladder, you’re under much more stress than those at the top. One of the top civil servants interviewed for a programme on this broadcast by the Beeb said he didn’t feel unduly stressed, as when he got his job in Whitehall, he viewed all the splendour of the historic buildings and the pomp and authority of his position as being for him.

The way people can circumvent this destructive stress, is by developing strong social bonds. The researchers found that one of the groups that had successfully bucked the trend in heart disease was a community of Italian-Americans. They had strong social bonds, including worshipping together at the local church and actively participating in the church community.

Not everyone is religious, and certainly not in an increasingly secular Britain. Traditionally, there have also been other social bonds, which would also have provided some of the same functions. These would have included trade unions, sports clubs, the traditional British boozer, and work social clubs. These have all come under attack from the type of highly competitive, fiercely individualistic capitalism that has emerged in the past few decades. Thatcher set out to smash the unions and working class solidarity. Pubs are closing at a rate of knots as they are unable to compete with the cheaper booze you can drink at home sold in supermarkets and off-licences, and many businesses simply have no interest in providing for their workforce. Quite the contrary. And the sports clubs have all got long waiting lists as councils have been forced to close or sell off sports facilities.

The result is that the traditional social networks that helped to giving meaning and social support, especially to men, have been cut. For a few, the despair this has engendered has become unbearable.

The causes of suicide are complex, and quite often very personal to the individual who took the step of ending their life. But a good step in at least cutting the number of people taking their lives would be to try and restore economic health to struggling areas, and rebuild the communal ties Thatcher destroyed when she said, ‘There is no society. There is only people’.

And it means challenging the hierarchical assumptions of the Tories. As the saying goes ‘We all have equal worth’.

The Sansculotte Programme of 1793

April 22, 2014

French Revolution Book

D.G. Wright’s Revolution and Terror in France, 1789-1795 also contains the address the radical sections of the Sansculottes sent to the National Assembly on 2nd September 1793. The sansculottes weren’t all working class, nor were they Socialists, and the address was the closest they ever came to a programme of social and economic reform. Nevertheless, it shows a profound and extremely radical commitment to social equality and is marked by demands for limits to be placed on wealth in the interest of providing for the poor. It runs:

Mandatories of the People – Just how long are you going to tolerate royalism, ambition, egotism, intrigue and avarice, each of them linked to fanaticism, and opening our frontiers to tyranny, while spreading devastation and death everywhere? How long are you going to suffer food-hoarders spreading famine throughout the Republic in the detestable hope that patriots will cut each other’s throats and the throne will be restored over our bloody corpses, with the help of foreign despots? You must hurry for there is no time to lose … the whole universe is watching you; humanity reproaches you for the troubles which are devastating the French Republic. Posterity will damn your names in future if you do not speedily find a remedy. … You must hurry, representatives of the people, to deprive all former nobles, priests, parlementaires and financiers of all administrative and judicial responsibility; also to fix the price of basic foodstuffs, raw materials, wages, and the profits of industry and commerce. You have both the justification and the power to do so. To speak plainly! To talk of aristocrats, royalists, moderates and counter-revolutionaries is to draw attention to property rights, held to be sacred and inviolable … no doubt; but do these rogues ignore the fact that property rights are confined to the extent of the satisfaction of physical needs? Don’t they know that nobody has the right to do anything that will injure another person? What could be more harmful than the arbitrary power to increase the price of basic necessities to a level beyond the means of seven eighths of the citizens? … do they not realize that every individual in the Republic must employ his intelligence and the strength of his arms in the service of the Republic, and must spill his blood for her to the very last drop? In return, the Republic should guarantee to each citizen the means of sufficient basic necessities to stay alive.

Would you not agree that we have passed a harsh law against hoarders? Representatives of the people, do not let the law be abused … this law, which forces those with large stocks of foodstuffs to declare their hoard, tends to favour hoarders more than it wipes out hoarding; it puts all their stocks under the supervision of the nation, yet permits them to charge whatever price their greed dictates. Consequently the general assembly of the Section des Sans Culottes considers it to be the duty of all citizens to propose measures which seem likely to bring about a return of abundance and public tranquillity. It therefore resolves to ask the Convention to decree the following:

1. That former nobles will be barred from military careers and every kind of public office; that former parlementaires, priests and financiers will be deprived of all administrative and judicial duties.

2. That the price of basic necessities be fixed at the levels of 1789-90, allowing for differences in quality.

3. That the price of raw materials, level of wages and profits of industry and commerce also be fixed, so that the hard-working man, the cultivator and the trader will be able to procure basic necessities, and also those things which add to their enjoyment.

4. That all those cultivators who, by some accident, have not been able to harvest their crop, be compensated from public funds.

5. That each department be allowed sufficient public money to ensure that the price of basic foodstuffs will be the same for all citizens of the Republic.

6. That the sums of money allowed to departments be used to eradicate variations in the price of foodstuffs and necessities and in the cost of transporting them to all parts of the Republic, so that each citizen is equal in these things.

7. That existing leases be cancelled and rents fixed at the levels of 1789-90, as for foodstuffs.

8. That there be a fixed maximum on personal wealth.

9 That no single individual shall possess more than the declared maximum.

10 That nobody be able to lease more land than is necessary for fixed number of ploughs.

11. That no citizen shall possess more than one workshop or retail shop.

12. That all who possess goods and land without legal title be recognised as proprietors.

The Section des Sans Culottes thinks that these measures will created abundance and tranquillity, and will, little by little, remove the gross inequalities of wealth and multiply the number of proprietors. (pp. 118-20).

It’s very much of it’s time, but some of it is still relevant to today. There are struggling small farmers in Britain, who need support from the government if they are to survive. In the corporative 1960s and ’70s, the government did pursue and prices and incomes policy, to make sure that wages matched the price of goods. There is a problem where prices have risen while the government and industrialists have kept wages low and frozen, so that some families are finding it difficult to make ends meet. The same also applies to another necessity that didn’t exist in the late 18th century: electricity. The Labour party announced that if it won the election, it would freeze electricity prices. A few months or so ago one of the electricity companies also announced that they were not going to raise their prices due to the fact that there was so much indignation at the cost of electricity when people were finding it difficult to pay for it.

As for limits on personal wealth and the number of businesses one should own, even though governments wish to promote successful industries and businesses, the policies can still be justified. It is obscene that the pay for company directors, elite bankers and the extremely rich has risen colossally, while the majority of workers have either had their wages frozen or their pay actually cut. The Japanese have a law which expressly states that company directors and chairmen may only enjoy a salary at a set, maximum level above the average wages of their workers. Japan is now one of the very largest economies in the world, and in many respects it is a ruthlessly capitalistic culture. Yet Japanese culture also stresses the importance of harmony and consensus. The law setting a ceiling for managers’ salaries was deliberately introduced in order to create an orderly, middle-class, harmonious society with little extremes of wealth. It’s questionable whether this has been successful, given the rise in unemployment due to the massive Japanese slump, and the appalling conditions endured by outcast groups such as the ‘Village People’ and Japanese Koreans.

It’s also the case that the actual number of businesses trading in the high street is contracting as more and more local businesses are forced out or taken over by the big firms. In Stokes Croft in Bristol four years ago there were riots due to the opening of yet another branch of Sainsbury’s, which threatened to put the local grocers and supermarkets out of business. The increasing homogeneity of the high street has attracted media attention and discussion. There has even been discussion of laws to prevent too many of the same brand of supermarket from opening in the same area.

cameron-toff

If the Sansculottes were around now, this man would not be in government.

And finally, considering the present government, you can well sympathise with the Sansculotte proposal to exclude nobles and financiers from government. The present government is, after all, composed by aristos and financiers, working on behalf of aristos, financiers and big business against the poor.

As I said in my last post, we could do with rediscovering a little bit more of the Sansculotte commitment to genuine democracy and egalitarianism.