Posts Tagged ‘small Businesses’

To Win in the Countryside, Labour Can Start by Defending the Small Farmers

September 8, 2020

Mike put up a piece yesterday reporting the prediction that if Boris and the Tories get the no deal Brexit their paymasters, the hedge funds, want, 1/3 of Britain’s farmers will go bust in the next five years. These are going to be the small farmers, who were suckered into believing that leaving the EU would make things better for them. They were wrong, and Mike asks how much sympathy we should have for them, considering they voted for Brexit. Actually, it’s not difficult to understand how. We were taught about the EEC as it was then in geography at my old school, including the Common Agricultural Policy. I can’t remember the details, but this was geared to granting subsidies and rewarding the much-less efficient farming systems of France and Germany, and penalised our agricultural sector, which is much more mechanised and employs far fewer people. The system of subsidies, if I remember correctly, also tranferred money and funding from the advanced agriculture of northern Europe to the less developed farms of the grain belt around the Mediterranean. Given that the Common Agriculture Policy actually put our farmers at a relative disadvantage, it isn’t hard to see why our farmers, like the fishermen, wanted to leave.

However, the big farmers were advised not to vote for Brexit, didn’t, and probably won’t suffer quite as much as their smaller cousins. However, I do think this crisis offers Labour an opportunity to show Britain’s rural communities that it hasn’t forgotten them. There have already been discussions about how Labour could win in the countryside, including a Fabian pamphlet about the issue. Well, I think Labour can start by following the example of the Swedish Social Democrats in the 1920s and 1930s. I can’t remember where I read it, but I read somewhere that the Social Democrats’ 50 year stay in power began in the 1920s when it backed the small, peasant farmers against the threat of bankruptcies and land seizures. I think the party and its members not only opposed these in parliament and local councils, but actually physically turned out to stop the bailiffs seizing individual farms and evicting the peasant farmer.

There’s a crisis going on in the countryside. If you watch the Beeb’s Countryfile, you’ll have seen reports about British farmers rural communities being under threat. Apart from the continuing problems of British agriculture, many rural communities are also suffering from cuts to local services and a lack of housing that local people can afford, rather than rich outsiders. Also, if you read George Monbiot’s Captive State, you’ll also know how the corporativism of New Labour and now the Tories actually harms farmers and local small businesses. Corporativism gives government subsidies and positions to big business in return for their donations. New Labour especially favoured the big supermarket chains, like Sainsbury’s, and gave it’s chief, David Sainsbury, a position on one of regulatory bodies, because Sainsbury at the time backed the party and donated to it. However, the supermarkets offer their cheap food at the expense of the producers, who are bound into manipulative and highly exploitative contracts. One of the supermarkets boasted a few years ago about the money it was giving to charity. In fact, none of that money came from the supermarket itself – it was all taken from its producers. At the same time, supermarkets undercut small businesses, like the local butcher, greengrocer and so on. But this also creates unemployment, because small businesses like theirs employ more people. If Labour wants to improve conditions in the countryside for small businesses like Arkwright’s in the classic Beeb comedy series, Open All Hours, it has to attack corporativism and the big supermarket chains. But I can’t see that happening under a Blairite like Starmer.

I expect that most of Britain’s farmers are probably Conservatives. But this doesn’t alter the fact that, whatever they believe, the Tories have abandoned them and their policies are actively harming small farmers and businesses and rural communities. The Labour party can start winning back the countryside by actively and obviously defending those hit by Tory policies.

And that means protesting against the closures of small farms when the Tories’ no deal Brexit hits them.

From 1996: Downsizing Guru Realises It Doesn’t Work

July 23, 2020

Remember the downsizing craze of the 1980s and 1990s, when Thatcherite economists all demanded that big firms should slim down through mass lay-offs and sackings? Firms were overstaffed, and it was all flab that needed to be cut out to make them ‘lean and mean’ in the marketplace.

Looking back through my scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, I found this article by the Daily Mail’s industrial correspondent, David Norris, ‘Guru of the job cutters admits downsizing has its down side’ in that paper’s edition for Monday, May 13, 1996. The article runs

‘An international economic guru who advocated massive job-shedding to make big business lean and fit has admitted he got it all wrong.

American Stephen S. Roach coined the word ‘downsizing’ in the early Eighties to sum up his philosophy that ruthless workforce pruning was needed to boost profits and productivity.

It was seized on around the world – not least in Britain, where hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs have disappeared over the last ten years.

His astonishing turnaround is certain to provoke more outrage against ‘fat-cat’ bosses, who have often used huge payroll savings to justify big salary rises for themselves.

‘Downsizing’ became a boardroom buzzword, with directors proudly telling shareholders that they were able to  pay higher dividends through redundancy-related cost-savings. The slick  term was more acceptable than talking of throwing people out of work.

Middle England has been worst hit, with thousands of white-collar jobs axed. High street banks have between them got rid of 90,000 staff since 1989. Downsizing has created a climate of insecurity which many blame for the still sluggish economic recovery. And the Government has lost millions of pounds in tax from workers axed from previously labour-intensive industries.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Roach, chief economist at the investment bank Morgan Stanley on Wall Street, announced his conversion in a memo to his firm’s clients.

He confessed he had now concluded that relentless cost-cutting was bad for business. ‘If you compete by building, you have a future. If you compete by cutting, you don’t’,’ the contrite guru said.

‘For years I have extolled the virtues of America’s productivity-led recovery. While I think it’s safe to say that such a scenario has become the new mantra for U.S. businesses in the 1990s, I must confess that I’m now having second thoughts.”

And he warned of a worker backlash ‘not on the shopfloor, but in the polling booths’.

That forecast was echoed by TUC boss John Monks yesterday.

He said: ‘Downsizing has done more than any other single business strategy to create the deep insecurity felt in Britain.

‘I hope this will herald a re-think in Britain’s boardrooms. Long-term success comes from steady investment and skilled, motivated staff.”

Around 38 per cent of Britain’s workforce – nearly ten million people – are now not in full-time permanent jobs. They are either in part-time or temporary work, or self-employed.

The main full-time job creation thrust has come from small firms, employing 20 staff or fewer. They have taken on 2.5 million extra workers in ten years.

Big retail chains have also taken on more workers. Tesco recently announced it was recruiting 4,500 to pack bags and generally assist shoppers. Last month it revealed record profits.

Late payment is still a problem for 45 percent of small and medium businesses.

The average time taken to be paid has risen from 52.8 days in 1994 to 53.2 this year, according to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand.’

Ha-Joon Chang describes in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, how downsizing has literally driven firms bankrupt. They cut back their staff and plant so much in order to boost management pay and shareholder dividends beyond the point where they were economically viable. He argues that the most durable firms tend to be those where the state also has a stake in the firm, and so in maintaining it, or where the workers are also strongly involved in its management. Chang’s not anti-capitalist, but he states that shareholders are fickle – the moment they think a firm is no longer as profitable as another company, or is in trouble, they’ll sell their shares and go elsewhere.

Despite this attack on downsizing’s credibility and the loss of government revenue it has created, job insecurity has increased massively to the point where it is normal. Blair and Gordon Brown are as responsible for this as the Tories, as they accepted the neoliberal, Thatcherite dogma that the labour market had to be fluid and flexible. Which means that firms should find it easy to lay off staff and their should always be a supply of cheap workers waiting to be taken on.

Thatcherism has been a disaster. This clipping from a quarter of a century ago shows one of its central doctrines was recognised as such by the man who invented it even them. But it’s kept the rich richer, and the poor poorer, and so despite articles like this, it’s still being pushed.

And the result is a Britain of despair and poverty where working families, never mind the unemployed and disabled, are dying of starvation or forced to use food banks.

 

Rioting and Looting Hurts Black People and their Businesses

June 9, 2020

It shouldn’t need to be said that rioting and looting hurts people, regardless of their colour. But the point that it also harms Blacks as well as Whites seems to have been lost on some people over the other side of the Pond. So far in Britain the Black Lives Matter protests seem to have been largely peaceful with the exception of those at the weekend at Downing Street, where there seem to have been attacks on the police. I say ‘seem’, because although the footage of the attacks look convincing, like many other people I remember the way the Beeb reversed the footage of the attack on the miners by the police at Orgreave colliery during the miner’s strike in order to make it look like the miners were attacking them. The reality was that it was the other way round. I hope this hasn’t happened this time, but the Beeb is so riddled with Tory bias and the blatant falsification of the news that you can’t be sure.

In America it’s been rather different. Some of the protests over there have descended into riots and people’s businesses have been trashed and looted. And they have included those belonging to Black people. ‘Young Rippa’ is a Black American Conservative, who has a channel on YouTube. The other day he put up a long video of about 20 minutes fiercely attacking the looting and rioting. His piece included a short video posted by a middle-aged Black lady. She was part-owner of a small business, working alongside seven other people. As he points out, that’s not unusual for small businesses. It had been broken into and trashed. She was there standing in some of the broken glass and other wreckage with what looked like her employees and co-workers. She angrily asked the viewer the rhetorical question ‘Do you think that’s got anything to do with Black Lives Matter?’ It’s a good question. It doesn’t seem to have absolutely anything to do with saving Black lives, or protesting poverty and despair to me. It looks far more like opportunistic criminals helping themselves at the expense of the law-abiding.

But weirdly some people have got it into their head that looters are some kind of anti-racist heroes. ‘Mr H Reviews’ is another YouTube channel, which reviews SF, Fantasy and Horror films and television shows. Again, it seems to come from a broadly conservative perspective, but that doesn’t disqualify it from being worth watching. Nearly a week ago, on June 3rd, ‘Mr H’ put up a piece about the X-Men actor Evan Peters being accused of racism and forced to make an apology after he had a tweeted his approval of a piece of footage of the LA police arresting a suspected looter. This was another case of the ‘cancel culture’ in which extreme left-wing activists to try to stop their opponents being heard. I am very much aware that same cancel culture exists on the right, and that Conservative activists and media monitoring groups are also doing their level best to make sure that only Conservative voices are heard. But on this occasion, assuming that the situation was as Mr H describes, he’s right to attack it.

Rioters and looters don’t help Black people, and it is not racist to condemn them.

I was talking to a Black friend a few years ago, whose business was also trashed during riots. He had had a small business near the centre of Bristol. But it had been hit and looted during the 2012 riots. As a result, he packed up and moved out. Now those riots weren’t about race, but the effect was the same: a Black entrepreneur trying to better himself had his livelihood trashed and destroyed. I don’t know if he employed anyone, but small businesses obviously help the economy and wider community. When they make a profit, it allows them to employ other people and purchase others’ goods and services. Moreover, the small grocers, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and so on are actually better for the community than the big supermarkets. They’re less efficient, but employ more people. Which means that those people have work, money, and so are able to buy others’ goods and services. And so everyone in the community benefits from small, local businesses.

The Black Lives Matter protests are all about improving Black people’s lives. It’s not just about police violence, but also about the racism that are holding Black people back and achieving equality.

But they can’t do this if criminals smash and destroy their businesses and livelihoods.

Let’s support peaceful protest, and condemn any violence and looting, regardless of the colour of those doing it.

Here are the two videos I mentioned. I haven’t watched Young Rippa’s all the way through as it’s long and a bit repetitive, and so can’t comment on all of it. I don’t share his political Conservatism, but absolutely support his condemnation of those just trying to stop ordinary Black people making a decent living for themselves and their families.

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Four

May 16, 2020

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

Conclusion

While this a great book I immensely enjoyed, it also very much the product of its time. Shaw is unrealistic and more than a little sectarian himself in his advocacy of the equalization of incomes. He regards it as the real, fundamental goal of socialism and that unless they too believe in it, others advocating nationalisation aren’t real socialists. But the Soviets and various other socialist groups have tried the equalisation of incomes, and it didn’t work. But nevertheless, even if wages shouldn’t be exactly the same, the differences in wealth should very definitely be far less than they are now.

Similarly, I don’t entirely agree with his views on the unions. Now other socialists also struggled with the problems they posed for working class power. Trade unions by themselves aren’t socialist organisations. Their role is to fight for better wages and conditions for the workers, not to replace capitalism, and Lenin himself pondered how workers could go from ‘trade union consciousness’ to socialism. In the 1980s it was found that trade unionists often voted Tory, because of the improved quality of life they enjoyed. But the unions are nevertheless vital working class organisations and are rightly at the heart of the Labour party, and have provided countless working class leaders and politicians.

Shaw was right about the coal mines, and his description of the results of the great differences in viability between them and the comparative poverty or wealth of the mining companies was one of the reasons they were nationalised by Labour under Clement Attlee.  He’s also right about nationalising the banks. They don’t provide proper loans for the small businessman, and their financial shenanigans have resulted, as Shaw noted in his own day, in colossal crashes like that of 2008. He is also right about the rich sending their money abroad rather than contributing to the British economy. In his time it was due to imperialism, and there is still a hangover from this in that the London financial sector is still geared to overseas rather than domestic investment. It’s why Neil Kinnock advocated the establishment of a British investment bank in 1987. Now, in the early 21st century, they’re also saving their money in offshore tax havens, and British manufacturers have been undercut and ruined through free trade carried out in the name of globalisation.

His arguments about not nationalising industries before everything has been properly prepared, and the failures of general strikes and revolutions are good and commonsense. So is his recommendation that capitalism can drive innovation. On the other hand, it frequently doesn’t and expects the state to bail it out or support it before it does. I also agreed with Shaw when he said that companies asking for government subsidies shouldn’t get them unless the gave the government a part share in them. That would solve a lot of problems, especially with the outsourcing companies. They should be either nationalised or abolished.

I can’t recommend the book without qualifications because of his anti-religious views. Shaw also shows himself something of a crank when it comes to vaccination. As well as being a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, which aren’t now anywhere near as remarkable as they once were, he’s against vaccination. There are parts of the book which are just anti-vaxxer rants, where he attacks the medical profession as some kind of pseudo-scientific priesthood with sneers at the religion of Jenner. He clearly believes that vaccination is the cause of disease, instead of its prevention. I don’t know if some of the primitive vaccinations used in his time caused disease and death, but it is clear that their absence now certainly can. Children and adults should be vaccinated because the dangers of disease are far, far worse.

Shaw also has an unsentimental view of the poor. He doesn’t idealise them, as poor, ill-used people can be terrible themselves, which is why poverty itself needs to be eradicated. In his peroration he says he looks forward to the poor being exterminated along with the rich, although he has a little more sympathy for them. He then denies he is a misanthrope, and goes on to explain how he likes people, and really wants to see people growing up in a new, better, classless socialist future.

While I have strong reservations about the book, it is still well-worth reading, not least because of Shaw’s witty turns of phrase and ability to lampoon of capitalism’s flagrant absurdities. While I strongly reject his anti-religious views, his socialist ideas, with a few qualifications, still hold force. I wish there were more classic books on socialism like this in print, and widely available so that everyone can read them.

Because today’s capitalism is very much like the predatory capitalism of Shaw’s age, and becoming more so all the time.

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

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

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

May 16, 2020

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

Introduction

This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

May 13, 2020

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

Starmer’s and Rayner’s Zoom Discussion with Labour Members

April 27, 2020

Last Monday, 20th April 2020, I got an email update from the local constituency party here in south Bristol letting me and the other members know what was happening with the party. This included nationally as well as locally. This included the news that the previous Wednesday the new leader and deputy leader, Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, had held a meeting over Zoom with 10,000 party members, answering their questions. Those discussed included

• How do we hold the Tories to account – related to the deaths of frontline workers

• How do we unite the Party in the light of the leaked report

• Can the green new deal be used to help rebuild the post pandemic economy

• How can we encourage more women in leadership

• A question about schools, keyworkers, PPE and tracing/testing

• Asked if Labour Party could push on the gaps for support for workers e.g. recently formed small business

• What about nationalisation post pandemic

• How to we stop the frontline workers being relegated after the crisis

• How will we oppose austerity

I am no fan of Starmer. He’s a right-winger, and the indications are that he will attempt to undo the gains for the left made under Corbyn and return to the party to the Conservative policies of privatisation and dismantling the welfare state under Blair. But the questions indicate that many members are still serious about nationalisation, the Green New Deal and opposing austerity, as well as placing more women in positions of leadership, alongside immediate, life and death issues such as holding the Tories to account for the deaths of front line workers.

Unfortunately, Starmer’s and Rayner’s answers aren’t recorded, so I don’t know what they were or how they intended to tackle these issues. But at least those issues are still live.

Murdoch Hacks Now Begging People to Buy Papers

April 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Kill the Poor

April 3, 2020

And now for another of my cartoons, in which I try to express my outrage, anger and disgust at the Conservative party and their murderous, destructive policies. This one takes the form yet again of a CD cover or promotional poster for the totally imaginary band, the Dead Thatchers. I was inspired to invent them by the American punk band, the Dead Kennedys. Their angry songs bitterly attacked the economic and social conditions of Reagan’s America. One of their songs, which I’ve based this cartoon on, was ‘Kill the Poor’.

As you can see, the cartoon shows a firing squad shooting dead a representative selection of poor folks, that the Tories despise and have been killing for years, while all the while claiming to help them. Looking on are David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, their eyes blood red. The people shot represent the disabled, the unemployed, single mothers, low paid workers and asylum seekers.

And as left-wing bloggers and activists like Mike, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, The Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper and so many, many others have shown for the past decade and more, Tory and Thatcherite policies are killing the poor. The harsh regime of fitness to work tests and benefit sanctions imposed by the DWP, as well as cuts in the amount paid and a waiting time of five weeks from making the claim to first payment for Universal Credit, have resulted in an estimated 120,000 people dying from austerity. Over a quarter of a million people a few years ago were forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together. Millions of children and adults were living in poverty. And thanks to Boris’ incompetent, bungled and penny-pinching handling of the Coronavirus crisis, that’s all got worse. Much worse. Firms have sacked their workers, rather than apply for the government help to pay 80 per cent of their wages. The government has promised to pay 80 per cent of the earnings of the self-employed and small businesses, but this is calculated on whether they pay business rates. Not all businesses do. Some, which share a building, leave it to their landlord. Those firms won’t get anything. And the small businessmen who will qualify won’t get it until June. For many of them, this will be too late.

And don’t be misled. The Tories do hate the poor. They despise and revile anyone on benefits as a scrounger. They see them as biologically inferior, people who should ideally be discouraged from claiming benefits or even allowed to die, rather than become a burden to the rich. Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and their brief hireling, Andrew Sabisky, all have this eugenicist view. As does the wretched, loathsome Toby Young, who attended a eugenics conference alongside real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis. And then there are all the Tory and other right-wing hacks, like Brendan O’Neil of Spiked, Trevor Kavanagh of the Scum and others, who complain bitterly about the lockdown, because, like BoJob and Cummings, they believe old people, the disabled and the weak should be left to die rather than the economy be damaged. Thanks to this attitude and the decades-long campaign of vilification in the press, the British public thinks that 27 per cent of all benefit claims are fraudulent, whereas the true figure is something like 0.2 per cent. This hatred also extends to single mothers, of course. Tory minister Peter Lilley had them on his little list of people he despised, who he sang about as a pranced about the stage in a parody of the song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado at a Tory party conference back in the ’90s. And nearly two decades before then, in the mid-70s, Thatcher’s mentor Sir Keith Joseph declared they were a threat to our stock, provoking mass outrage at such a Nazi comment.

And of course the victims include asylum seekers because of the very long tradition of Tory racism, a racism that has led to their brutalisation by profiteering and incompetent government outsourcing companies like Serco in the detention centres. Not that the racism is just confined to asylum centres. A large section of the Tories is deeply racist, and particularly towards Muslims. They are also far more genuinely anti-Semitic than Labour. A few days ago David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group put up a piece detailing some instances of their anti-Semitism. This included an incident remembered by the former speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. He was told by an unnamed Tory MP that if he had his way, ‘people like you’ would not be allowed in the chamber. Bercow asked him what he meant – lower class people, or Jews. The man replied ‘Both’.  But never mind, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis heartily loves the Tories and warmly welcomed Tweezer entry to 10 Downing Street. Mirvis seems to consider anti-Semitism as synonymous with anti-Zionism or hostility to Israel, so he and the rest of the Jewish establishment have precious little interest in combating real anti-Semitism when it comes from genuine Nazis or the right. Comfy little Tory supporters, they’re only interested in manufacturing spurious claims and smears against the left.

As for the low paid, they hate them because not only do they claim benefits, but, like the unemployed, the believe it’s their fault they’re poor. In their idea of capitalism, a version that has never existed apart from their imaginations, the free market rewards merit. If a worker is low-paid, then it’s their fault. They should either work harder, or actively find a better paid job. Even if, thanks to the low-wage policies they’ve imposed since Thatcher, there are none about. In that case, it’s just tough. The free market is somehow sacrosanct and inviolable.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it, and, as always, please don’t have nightmares.