Posts Tagged ‘Short Money’

Strikes and Industrial Protest in an Anti-Union State: Pre-Revolutionary Russia

February 20, 2016

Like just about all its predecessors, Cameron’s government is doing its level best to emasculate and destroy the trade unions. Thatcher did it back in the 1980s with her union-busting legislation, and then the highly militarised use of the police during the Miners’ strike. Cameron’s trying to destroy them and their political representation in the Labour party through attacks on the union levy, further legal limits on the right to strike, and the legalisation of the use of blackleg labour from agencies to stop strikes being anything but cosmetic. The International Labour Organisation in the UN have denounced this last piece of legislation. And David Davies, one of the most right-wing of the Tory MPs, called Cameron’s plan to force stikers on pickets to giver their names to the police as ‘Francoist’.

Dave Cameron hopes this legislation will leave the unions powerless, and the workforce cowed, willing to accept the very worst wages and conditions. In the short term, he’s probably right, but in the long term, probably not. Not from the example of pre-Revolutionary Russia. The lesson there is quite the opposite: if you grind people down into the dirt for long enough, and deprive them of the right to strike and form unions, they will nevertheless strike and form unions, and the strikes and unrest will get more severe the worse conditions gets and the more force is deployed.

Lionel Kochan, in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) notes that in 19th century Russia it was illegal to form trade unions, go on strike or form any kind of collective organisation for the workers. (p. 42). There were no friendly societies or strike funds to support striking workers. Nevertheless, strikes became a feature of Russian industrial life. To be sure, not all workers went on strike. He states that between 1895 and 1904, only half the workers in factories tended to go on strike, most of which didn’t last very long. The average strike lasted about ten days. (p. 44).

Nevertheless, industrial unrest became so chronic that the government was forced to increase the police and the armed forces to put down strikes. The number of policemen was raised to 1 to 250 workers, and there was one factory inspector, whose duties included warning workers that they could not legally strike, and what would happen to them if they did, for every 3,000 workers. The army was called in to suppress strike action and workers’ demonstrations 19 times in 1893, 50 in 1899, 53 in 1900, 271 in 1901 and 522 in 1902. (p. 47). And the number of those on strike could be huge. During the revolutionary agitation of 1905, 111,000 people had gone on strike by 8th January. (P.88). At its height, there were 125,000 people on strike in the Russian capital. (p.94). In 1907, 740,000 people went on strike. (p. 160).

Most of these strikes were for purely economic reasons – an increase in wages and the betterment of working conditions, rather than for political reforms such as the establishment of a parliament and the right to vote. Nevertheless, the number of political strikes increased as the new century progressed. And this was despite some minimal concessions to modern representative politics, such as the establishment of a parliament – the Duma – albeit on a very restricted franchise by Nicholas II. In 1910 there were 222 strikes involving 46,000 workers. The following year, 1911, there were 466, with 105,110 workers. And the number of political strikes went up from eight in 1910 to twenty four in 1911. (p. 161). In 1912 the number of political strikes rocketed to 1,300. (P.162). And then in 1914, the year the War broke out, the number of strikes as a whole shot up to 3,466, of which 2,500 were politically motivated.(p. 164).

In many ways, this is to be expected. If you drive people down to the point where they have absolutely nothing to lose, they will revolt, and revolt violently. At one point wages were so low -just 40 kopeks – that they were insufficient for a worker to support a family. You can compare that to the in-work poverty today, where most welfare recipients are people working, often very long hours, but not earning enough to support themselves or their families.

Despite the glowing picture of the Developing World by the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained, which urged Brits to work harder for less money, ’cause that’s what workers outside the West are doing, parts of India is currently riven by Maoist rebels. I’ve mentioned the Naxites before, radical Marxists in the poorest states in Indian waging a guerrilla war on behalf of the peasants and Dalits. And much of the radical Muslim unrest and terrorism in India has concrete social and economic motives. In many areas, Muslims are treated as second-class citizens, given the worst jobs and with an unemployment rate higher than their Hindu compatriots. In fact, most of the Islamic unrest throughout the world probably has its origins less in religious doctrine and more in conditions of high unemployment, low pay, poor opportunities and political sclerosis.

By making democracy a sham, and repressing unions and other organisations trying to work for better wages and working conditions, Cameron is storing up problems for the future. The Fascist dictatorships of Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain collapsed, partly through workers’ strikes. As did the Communist dictatorships at the opposite end of Europe.

Now Cameron needs to maintain the illusion of democracy, and some minimal welfare state in order to deceive people that his government is actually democratic, and he is doing something to help them. After all, Bismarck said

Give the workman the right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick, assure him maintenance when he is old … If you do that … then I believe the gentlemen of the Social-Democratic programme will sound their bird-calls in vain. (Cited in Koch, p. 48).

Of course, Cameron is doing his best to make sure people don’t have the right to work, or are cared for and maintained in sickness and old age. He wants to pass welfare provision on to private industry, who will provide a much poorer service. But he needs to give the illusion that he is doing all the above. And it’ll probably work – for a time. Possibly even decades. But at the end there will be an explosion. And it may be all the more bloody, because of the way he has reduced democracy to a sham, so that people will just discard it in favour of authoritarianism, just as after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 millions of Germans were convinced that democracy had failed.

But what does Cameron care? He probably banks on being long dead by then, if he gives it any thought at all. Or perhaps he dreams of fleeing somewhere else, when the conflagration finally comes. To Switzerland, perhaps. Or the Cayman Islands. South America. Perhaps, America itself, always assuming Sanders doesn’t get in. And if it all kicks off before then, he, or Bojo, or some other Tory pratt, will indulge their stupid fantasy of being a great war leader, bravely reconquering the cities from Communist militants.

And we’re back to Orwell’s description of the future: a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.

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Vox Political: Corbyn Accuses Tories of Creating ‘Zombie’, Sham Democracy

February 20, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political yesterday blogged about a piece in the Mirror by Jeremy Corbyn, in which the Labour leader used the Conservatives of trying to replace genuine, representative democracy with a ‘zombie democracy’. In this sham democracy, ordinary people are being shut out of power through the Tories’ attacks on the franchise with the changes to voter registration and the trade unions. He describes a meeting Gloria de Piero had with a group of young women arranged by the charity, The Young Women’s Trust. Seven out of the nine members of the group had never voted, because they felt nobody was listening to them and politicians were useless. This complemented the ‘zombie economy’ the Tories are also erecting, in which people are faced with no jobs and no homes, and those in work are left to slave for pittances.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/19/corbyn-reckons-the-tories-are-giving-us-a-zombie-democracy-to-compliment-their-zombie-economy/. Go and read it, as it’s right.

Mike describes this zombie democracy as ‘a one-party state hiding behind a pretence of offering the people a choice’. Absolutely true. The Tories are doing their best to deprive their rivals of funding through attacks on the trade unions for Labour, the removal of Short money and the laws against charities lobbying for more money. All while making sure that corporate donors wheelbarrow their wads of cash to their doors.

This isn’t the first time one-party states have tried to hide behind a façade of democracy. Erich Honneger and his comrades did it in the former East Germany. The East German constitution formally defined the DDR as a democratic state, and their were, in theory, other political parties. It was, however, all a sham, and the parties themselves declared that they ‘recognised the leading role of the Communist Party’. It was a façade hiding the true nature of the country, which was a Communist dictatorship.

Meanwhile, the Fascist states propped up by the Americans in South and Central America also hid behind a democratic façade. In the weeks just before an election, the ruling party would order a clampdown on rival parties and opposition groups, beating and imprisoning their members and supporters. Once beaten into submission, American and UN observers would go in for the elections. They would then write pieces saying that the elections proceeded quietly, there was no use of violence and intimidation, and that the local caudillo had won fair and square. Possibly there were also pieces about how well he was loved by his people, and his massive popularity.

All lies. As is the veneer of democracy into which British politics is being hollowed out.

And behind that façade is the very real threat of imprisonment without proper due process and the internment of political prisoners. The Tories and the Lib Dems have set up a system of secret courts to try terrorist radicals. They want to create a special prison to isolate Islamists. And going further back, MI5 and MI6 were trying to organise a coup in the 1970s against Harold Wilson, including mass internment of 40, mostly Labour MPs, and 5,000 others. Include youth, age and minority workers and activists.

Behind the business suits, Cameron and his squadristi are all jackboot-wearing Blackshirts. They’re just very careful at hiding their innate Fascist authoritarianism.

Vox Political on Tory Proposal to Cut Number of MPs to Give Them Greater Number

February 13, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political put up this report from the Guardian about the Tories wishing to go ahead with their plan to cut the number of MPs down from 650 to 600. The Commons Political and Constitutional Committee, however, has rejected the proposals as unjustified. The real reason the Tories are going ahead with it is because they hope that by adjusting the boundaries they’ll get 20 more Tory MPs.

Mike has called this what it is: gerrymandering. He states it’s part of the same tactics, which has caused the Tories to cut Short money, the parliamentary funding of opposition MPs. His recommendation is that Labour should make good on their threat and stop all co-operation with the Tories.

Conservatives will go ahead with ‘unjustified’ cut in number of MPs – for their own benefit?

This isn’t the first time the Tories have tried something like this. I remember that back in the 1980s, under Thatcher, they carried out a similar piece of gerrymandering. They altered constituency boundaries in order to give them an electoral advantage. The result was that Tony Benn, the highly respected Labour MP for part of Bristol, was kicked out and we were given Jonathan Saeed instead. Not that Mr Saeed’s career in anyway blossomed under Maggie. Bristol was one of the areas where Thatcher decided she was going to cut funding. Saeed stood up to her, and so suffered the fate of all Tories when they make the mistake of confront the Generalissimo.

And, of course, there’s a fine piece of Tory hypocrisy about this. Remember the howls of rage when Tony Blair packed the House of Lords with ‘people’s peers’. Not democratic! they thundered. They compared him to Cromwell’s attack on parliament and his abolition of the House of Lords. One volume, written by an outraged High Tory, had a caricature of Blair on the cover as a punk, dressed in black leather and combats, for his assault on traditional British institutions.

Well, as Roy Hattersley I think once said, there wasn’t a British institution that Maggie didn’t handbag. To them, it’s only an affront to democracy and tradition when Labour do it. The Tories’ machinations are another step towards setting up the oligarchical state they so desperately desire. A state run by the privileged rich, for the privileged rich, and with the proles firmly kept in their place, excluded from power by any means possible. And they’ve had good practice at it. They’ve been doing it for over thirty years. The time’s well overdue this was stopped, before it leads the whole parliamentary system into disrepute.

Quentin Letts and the Tory Attack on Short Money

January 21, 2016

Last week or so Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece about the Tories wishing to abolish Short money. This is the funding given by the state to opposition parties. I’m not actually surprised the Tories want to get rid of it. They’re authoritarians anyway, who hate any kind of opposition. But I’m particularly not surprised they’ve decided to attack Short money, as it’s one of the issues criticised by Quentin Letts in his 2009 book, Bog Standard Britain (London: Constable and Robinson Ltd).

Letts is the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Heil. He’s been one of the panellists at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and also on at least one edition of Have I Got News For You. Here’s what he has to say about it in his book:

Our political class has a horror of losing its perks. Nothing new. In 1970, soon after losing the general election, Harold Wilson was seen queuing for a taxi late one night outside the Members’ Entrance to the Commons. Friends of Wilson were distraught. A few days earlier he had been Prime Minister but there he now was, waiting for a cab like the rest of humanity. Instead of seeing this, as they should have done, as eloquent testimony to the ephemeral nature of elected office, Harold’s cronies secured him a state-paid limo and chauffeur.

We have been paying ever since for Leaders of the Opposition to be thus pampered. In 1974, having regained the premiership, Wilson returned the compliment by slipping the shadow cabinet a wad of public money. This ‘Short money’, named after Edward Short, the Labour minister who presented the proposal to Parliament, is now worth some £7 million a year to the Opposition parties. short money was given on the premise that an Opposition would be improved by having researchers who could prepare meaningful policies. It would result in better government. Nice one! In practice, Short money allows an Opposition to save its money for election campaigning. This creates an arms race of electoral fundraising which in turn results in dodgy donors being given undue pre-eminence over the political parties’ mass membership. Short money also allows Opposition spokesmen to keep large retinues which makes them feel important and saves them having to do so much thinking for themselves. Result: an overblow secretariat, lazy parliamentarians, hefty bills which have to be picked up by the taxpayer. Short money is an expensive con. All it has done is expand a professional political class. And all because socialist Harold’s friends thought it was improper that he should have to queue for a taxi. (pp. 219-20).

Letts’ party political bias is evident here. He despises ‘Socialist’ Harold Wilson, for having money given to him and his party after he left office. I’ve no idea whether the story about the limo and Wilson waiting at a taxi stand is true. I assume it is. But that’s not the reason the Tories want to get rid of it, nor is the explanation that it’s all about curtailing the bloated retinues and pomp of the political class. If that were the case, then Cameron would be happy to see greater clarity of the political process through the Freedom of Information Act, and by quite happy to see MPs’ expenses scrutinised by the press.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Cameron and his hand-picked cronies, including Jack Straw, are doing their best to rip the guts out of FOIA. They don’t like people challenging government decisions, and particularly not when it comes to MPs’ expenses. Hence the government got very huffy when the Independent asked for them under the Freedom of Information Act. Campaigners and journalists making such requests have been told that the Act is to allow people to understand how government decisions are made, not for them to challenge them. So shut up, run along, and do what we tell you. We’re back to the old slogan of Mussolini:

Believe.
Obey.
Fight.

As for forcing parties to rely on their grassroots’ members’ subscriptions, rather than contributions from wealthy donors, that’s a load of hogwash as well. The Tories are raking huge wads of cash from their backers in business, as well as corporate largesse from courtesy of lobbyists. And they have absolutely no interest in what their ordinary members have to say. The local, constituency parties have complains again and yet again that they are ignored at Westminster. The effect of corporate funding on the parties has been that they’ve all shrunk, both Labour and the Tories. The Tories are now under 100,000 members. That’s a massive fall for the party that was, not so long ago, Britain’s largest, with at least a quarter of million members.

They simple fact is that the Tories want to stifle the opposition anyway they can. And they’re trying to do it by starving them of funds. This explains the latest Tory attack on the union levy. And simply by their attack on the Freedom of Information Act, it seems to bear out that the Short money must actually be doing the task for which it was intended, namely, allow the Opposition to frame policies better. That’s clearly a danger as they’re trying to stop people using the Freedom of Information Act, not just by narrowing even further what may be released under it, but also by raising the fees charged.

This is clearly a very, very frightened government.

Well, if Cameron wants to play that game, then I suggest Labour also plays it too. Mike suggested that Labour should immediately cease any co-operation with the Tories, such as the pairing agreement, which states that if one Tory MP can’t make it to a debate, his Labour opposite number must be drop out as well. The Tories only have a majority of 16. Let’s make it impossible for them to govern.

Way back in the 1970s and ’80s, any government that consider cutting Short money could count on being told by the Mandarins in Whitehall that the policy was ‘very courageous’. Meaning, to those who used to watch Yes, Minister, that it was likely to lose them election. Let’s put that into practice, and make sure that it does.