Posts Tagged ‘‘Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy’’

Neil Kinnock in 1987 on Tory Cuts to Apprenticeships and Vocational Training

June 1, 2014

Kinnock Book

I found Neil Kinnock’s book, Making Our Way (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986) in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday. It was written by the former leader of the Labour party, now an EU commissioner in Brussels, to make the case for the Labour party and genuinely socialist policies against the Thatcher administration. Unfortunately, after losing the election the following year, in 1987, Kinnock and the party’s leadership gradually rejected these, and turned from promoting manufacturing industry to courting and promoting the financial sector instead. This was done by Mo Mowlam and Gordon Brown in the party’s ‘prawn cocktail’ offensive, which eventually produced Blair and New Labour. The book’s arguments are still sound, however, and in many ways similar to those in Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger and Adam Sharples (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986).

One of the areas of government policy criticised by Kinnock is the attack and cuts to vocational training and education. The red-headed leader points to the fact that Britain’s industrial competitors, such as German and Japan, placed a very high emphasis on creating a skilled workforce that could serve their manufacturing economy. This was reflected in their school systems, which also included vocational, technical education. Science and engineering were also much more respected and promoted, so that these countries had many more of these to work in industry. Advocates of greater support and promotion of engineering in British education, for example, have for a long time pointed out that while in Britain the term ‘engineer’ may refer simply to metal-worker – a skilled or semi-skilled worker, for example, in Germany it’s status is much higher, and will denote professors of engineering and highly skilled technicians on a level with scientists. Kinnock also points out that Germany also has a far higher number of apprenticeships, designed to provide young workers with the skills they need. Yet in England, the number of apprenticeships was not only smaller, but actually declining. Kinnock describes this, and criticises the Youth Training Scheme, the government scheme that was introduced to combat unemployment by teaching young workers industrial skills. He writes

When the impact of government policies on training is examined an equally alarming picture emerges. The traditional method of vocational education and training for the 16-19 age group – or, at least, boys in that age group – has been the apprenticeship. But during the last few years the numbers of apprentices starting in British industry has declined drastically, from 120,000 in 1979 to 40,000 in 1983, while in the latter year in GErmany 620,000 young people were beginning high-quality apprenticeships. The decline in the number of apprenticeships has been due partly to the massive contraction of manufacturing industry and partly to cuts in government support for local government. Little of the reduction has come as a result of the modernization or reform of initial training. And while government economic policies were wiping out apprenticeship opportunities, the government was also closing Skillcentres, abolishing 16 Industry Training Boards and withdrawing Exchequer support for industrial training and retraining. Apologists for the government insist, of course, that the operations of the Manpower Services Commission and the Youth Training Scheme in particular are more than making up for these losses. It is true that the efforts of people in the MSC, the YTS and the associated activities can produce training of high quality. But the scale of that standard of provision is simply not great enough to compensate for the losses, let alone meet modern training and retraining needs in a country where mass unemployment adds to the crises causes by a history of undertraining.

The apprenticeship system, the Training Boards, the Skill-centres all fell short of perfection. But they have not been replaced by a superior system meeting the comprehensive training skill supply of the nation. They have been replaced by forms of mass provision which beautify the unemployment figures but too frequently fail to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy.

The YTS has the advantage that it is universal and, at long last, is being extended to two-year duration. But that extension, the facility for qualification, the opportunities for continuing education and the resources for instruction and for payment to trainees have been grudgingly granted. As a result, Tory politicians have not met the requirements identified by those experienced in education and training. The arguments of the latter should be heeded. They are not empire-building and they do not make the case for greater quality or quantity of support and improved programme content and opportunity out of selfishness. Rather, they recognise that half-hearted provision means downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

Given the history of deficiency in British training and the division in attitudes and therefore expectations between ‘education’ and ‘training’ in our country, it was not surprising that the approach to change should be faltering, cautious and prone to the errors of snobbery, conservatism and complacency. In many ways, change on the scale that has been needed for decades would amount to a cultural, educational and industrial revolution against ignorance, short-sightedness, convention and vested interests. The decades have certainly passed; and some of the change has come – but slowly, and circumstances now require urgency. That urgency is simply not manifested by the government, and industry, with a few honourable exceptions, has neither the will nor the feeling of obligation to meet large-scale additional provision spontaneously.

Trained and educated human abilities, the incomparable requirement of resilient economic recovery and advance for the Britain of the 1990s and beyond are not being developed to anything like the extent necessary to meet national needs. The seed corn is either being devoured, as education and training are cut or constrained, or not even being planted. The consequences for the harvest are clear and awful. (pp. 140-2).

The situation has changes since then. Higher education has been massively expanded to the point where about 45 per cent of school leavers go on to university and there was an attempt, back in the 1990s, to reintroduce apprenticeships. The main argument, however, is as true as ever. Britain’s industrial base was deliberately decimated by Thatcher to break the back of the unions and produce a prostrate, servile workforce ready for exploitation. The various workfare and WRAG schemes are the result of this. This is intended to give the impression that the government is actively trying to give new skills to the workforce and maintain the illusion that there are still jobs out there, for anyone willing to make an effort. The reality is that simply the opposite. There are few jobs, with a vast number of candidates competing for them. And this is precisely what is demanded by the Chicago school of economists, like von Hayek and Milton Friedman, who inspired Thatcher. Their theories demand an unemployment rate of 6 per cent to keep wages down. All the while, of course, giving cheap, publicly subsidised labour to business, including big firms like Tesco’s that definitely don’t need it.

And so what Kinnock said about the YTS applies in spades to them. Workfare is indeed a form of mass provision which beautifies the unemployment figures but too frequently fails to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy. They are a ‘half-hearted provision’ which has produced downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

It’s time workfare, and the whole benighted Tory approach to manufacturing industry and a genuinely skilled workforce was thrown out with them and the other Thatcherite ideological rubbish, before another thirty years goes past.

The Spectator, A British Investment Bank, And the Globalised Chains of British Industry

April 27, 2014

I also reblogged on Friday another piece from Mike, over at Vox Political, The Tories have run out of momentum, ideas and even arguments criticising a piece in the arch-Tory magazine, The Spectator, by Frasier Nelson. Nelson was pondering the lead Ed Milliband was making over the Tories in the polls, and attempting to do his pit to prevent a Labour victory next year by criticising some of Milliband’s policies. Mike pointed out that his article was very much an ‘own goal’, as rather than showing how wrong Milliband and his policies were, they actually showed the opposite. Of course what frightened Nelson was the prospect of further state regulation. Mike turned the arguments around by showing how, if one replaces ‘regulation’ with ‘help’, all Nelson’s comments about Labour and state regulation actually appear as a ringing endorsement of Milliband’s policies. He’s invited Speccie readers to come over and comment on his piece, but so far, none have.

One of Milliband’s policies that particularly caught Nelson’s scorn was Milliband’s suggestion that there should be an investment bank for Britain, and two high street banks. This, said, Nelson, was a throwback to Neil Kinnock’s policies in the early 1980s. So it is. And it’s right.

The authors of the book Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, also urged the establishment of a British investment bank, because the existing banking and financial structure in Britain is geared to overseas, not domestic investment. The book was written in 1986, but it’s still true 28 years later. And British manufacturing has suffered as a result.

As for the foreign investment, particularly from the Far East, that the Conservatives have tried to attract to Britain, this has not supplied the amount of financial support that British industry requires. One of the complaints and criticisms made of the utility companies a few months ago was that they were mostly owned by foreign companies. These used them as a source of income, while not investing in their expansion or improvement. This is almost to be expected. The Chinese and other Developing Nations that Cameron and previous administrations have appealed to for investment in Britain are intent on developing and expanding their own industries and economy. They therefore have little interest in propping up the economy of what many of them see as a competitor and colonial oppressor.

I used to work with a former diplomat, who told me that the Chinese still feel an immense humiliation against Britain for their defeat in the Opium Wars and the conquest and domination of their country by the European powers and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was of the opinion that as China became a global power, it would deliberately destroy our economy, before moving on to do the same to the Japanese.

In this respect, de-industrialising Britain is similar to industrialising Russia in the 19th century, according to Lenin and the Russian Populists, who preceded him. In his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin argued that Russia had effectively been colonised economically by the European powers. Like their formal colonies, these used Russia to supply raw materials and agricultural produce to their manufacturing industries, and as a market for their own finished goods. They did not, however, want Russia itself to industrialise and provide a competitive threat to their own manufacturing industries and economy. The only solution, Lenin argued, was for the Russian workers and peasants to seize power in the revolution and ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link’. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, Russia would industrialise and take its place as a modern, industrial power.

Britain doesn’t need a Revolution and consequent bloodshed. But we do need a proper investment bank to supply the financial support British manufacturing industry actually needs, and which has been so lacking under the globalised economy promoted by the Neoliberals. Of course, this is going to upset High Tories like Frasier Nelson, for whom any kind of state intervention is automatically a Bad Thing, especially as it curtails the financial sector’s ability to make money however they want, regardless of the consequences. In his opposition to the Bank, Nelson has shown how little the Tories actually care about promoting British industry, beyond trying to find yet another foreign buyer. It’s another example how they’re prepared to sacrifice the wider economy for their greed of the financial sector.

Lobster’s Robin Ramsay: Scots and Welsh Nationalism Not Anti-English, Just Anti-City of London

March 27, 2014

Lobster Logo

I found this comment about the non-racist, non-Fascist nature of Scots and Welsh nationalism by Robin Ramsay, the editor of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, in his piece ‘Contamination, the Labour Party, Nationalism and the Blairites’ (Lobster 33, Summer 1997: 2-9) expressing his opinion that Scots and Welsh Nationalists are racists or even anti-English, but simply against the dominance of the City of London that has damaged their countries, along with the rest of England outside the metropolis.

At any rate, the British Left does not assume that qua nationalists, the Scots and Welsh Nationalists are racists and fascists; and never has, as far as I am aware. But it is my experience that this Welsh and Scots nationalism is not even anti-English. Scots and Welsh Nationalists don’t see the people in the North (or Midlands, or East of West) of England as their oppressor. Their oppressor is in London and the Home Counties – the English establishment, which at its core is the City of London, and what might be best described as the overseas lobby in Britain – the financial, political, administrative and cultural remnants of the British Empire.

Where this essay 9is going may now be apparent. For the financial interests of that overseas lobby in London and the Home Counties against which the Welsh and the Scots Nats are struggling, have all too frequently taken precedence over the interests of industrial, non-metropolitan England, as well as Scotland and Wales – most recently and most nakedly in the 1980s.

The rest of the article is an examination of the way the Labour Party in the 1980s turned to take its economic direction for the City of London, with the result that the City’s interests, and those of the overseas lobby, superseded that of domestic manufacturing, with the consequent devastation of British industry that followed.

Although much has changed in the 17 years since the article was written, it remains substantially true. The Scots SF authors, China Mieville and Ian M. Banks, stated in an interview that they voted Scots Nationalist, not because they really wanted independence, but because the Scots Nats had better welfare policies than Labour. One of the Left-wing bloggers and commenters on this blog, Jaypot, has stated that she supports Scots Nationalism because of the effects of Tory rule on her homeland and certainly not because she hates the English. Indeed, she has said several times that she hopes an independent Scotland would galvanise us in the south to throw them out. Unemployed in Tyne and Wear put up a piece on their blog describing Alex Salmond’s promise to the people of North-East England that he would develop trade relations with their region, including placing valuable manufacturing contracts with local companies, if Scotland became independent. Furthermore, the authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger and Adam Sharples, have also pointed out that British domestic manufacturing has suffered from a lack of investment due to the orientation of the financial sector towards investing overseas, especially in the former colonies.

And the reaction this weekend of the Tory press to Wales’ campaign for better welfare and NHS services, rather than the austerity campaign, privatisation and misgovernment of the metropolitican Tory elite was a piece in the Daily Heil vilifying Wales. Mike ran a piece over at Vox Political pointing out how inaccurate the story was, and how it bore no relation to the Wales in which he lives. And we can expect such attacks to increase as more people in Scotland, Wales and the English regions begin considering that they might be better off without a government, whose sole aim is the enrichment of a very narrow, metropolitan elite.

Union Action for the Unemployed: The Invasion of the Ritz and in the 1980s

March 16, 2014

Unemployed Union pic

One of the pieces contained in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove’s selection of radical and democratic texts from British history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport, is Jack Dash’s account of the invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938 by himself and other members of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Dash (1907-89) later became a docker and trade union leader. He said at one point that his epitaph should be ‘Here lies Jack Dash/ All he wanted was/ To separate them from their cash. His account runs as follows:

We decided to invade the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. Everything was well planned. The press – that is, the London and national newspapers (and in those days before the swallowing up of the little fish by the big ‘uns under free enterprise there was quite a number of them) were all informed in advance. At the appointed time about 150 of our unemployed members, all dressed up in such remnants of our best suits as had escaped the pawnbroker, walked quietly into the Grill and sat down. This did not have the quite hoped-for effect, for due to a mistake – the only organizational mistake I can remember on the part of the campaign committee – we had overlooked the fact that the Grill was never open in the afternoons, only in the evenings. However, we continued as planned, took our places at the tables which were being set by waiters in readiness for the evening, and then pulled our posters from beneath our coats, with slogans calling for an end to the Means Test and more winter relief for the aged pensioners.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the waiters! They stood still in their tracks. Up rushed the management supervisor demanding to know what it was all about. He was politely told by our elected speaker, Wal Hannington, that we would like to be served with some tea and sandwiches because we were very tired and hungry, but he was not to be anxious and could present the bill which would be paid on the spot.

When the supervisor regained his breath he said, in a very cultured, precise Oxford-English voice: “I cannot permit you to be served. You are not our usual type of customer. You know full well that you are not accustomed to dine in an establishment of this quality. If you do not leave I shall have to send for the police.” (This had already been done.) In reply our spokesman informed him that many was the Saturday when wealthy clients of the Ritz would drive down to the East End workmen’s caffs in their Rollses and Daimlers and have a jolly hot saveloy, old Boy7, what! Slumming, they called it, and they too were in unusual attire and frequenting establishments that were not accustomed to such a clientele; nevertheless, said our spokesman, these gentlemen were treated with courtesy and civility and nobody sent for the police. The Ritz, he added, was not a private members’ club but a public restaurant ; he requested the supervisor to give orders to the staff to serve us with the refreshments we had asked for.

The appeal might just as well have ben addressed to the chandelier which hung from the ceiling. The supervisor stood there with a look of scorn, waiting for the police to come and throw us out. We refused to budge, insisting on our right as members of the general public, with legal tender in our pockets, to be served with what we had ordered. Meanwhile Wally had mounted the orchestra platform to address us; waiters and kitchen staff stood around dumbfounded at our temerity. But our speaker was incensed and in good form, and the issue of class privilege was clearly put. I noticed several of the staff members nodding their heads as the speaker touched on salient points. His speech was never finished, however, for the Grill was soon surrounded by the police. A couple of inspectors came over and consulted our organizers; we were ordered to leave, and did so in an orderly manner. As we filed out several of the waiters came up to wish us luck in our campaign, and pressed money into our hands.

‘Jack Dash, The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel (c.1938)’ in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 296-7.

The invasion of the Ritz Hotel was also featured a little while ago in a previous episode of the One Show on BBC 1.

The authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger, and Adam Sharples also note the establishment of centres for unemployed workers in Brmingham, Coventry and Sandwell, as well as the establishment of a Birmingham Trade Union Resource Centre and support given to a Workshop in Coventry to support unions campaigning against the closure of their firms. West Midlands County Council also had an Economic Development Unit had a trade union liaison officer. It also produced a ‘Jobs at Risk’ information pack for workers whose companies were either in difficulties or about to close down. (p. 59).

I’m sure there are organisations like the National Unemployed Workers Union campaigning for the unemployed. Unfortunately, the trade unions have been decimated by Thatcher and successive administrations, while local authorities have found their spending savagely attacked. No doubt part of this was to prevent Left-wing councils spreading such subversion by empowering the hoi polloi. We could, however, do with a few more very visible protests and campaigns to raise the profile of unemployment, and just how savage, degrading and inadequate current welfare provision is. Pointing out that IDS’ reforms are leading to deaths of 38,000 per year, so that no-one can claim ignorance, would also be an immense help. I do wonder if a mass march on Chipping Norton, or invasion of the Carlton Club following the example of Jack Dash and the Ritz wouldn’t do any harm, either.

Co-Operatives in Pre-Revolutionary Russia and Potential in Modern Britain

March 16, 2014

Co-operative pic

The co-operative movement and store was a major part of working class life during the 19th and much of the 20th century. My parents used to shop at the Co-Op, and receive the books of Green Shield Stamps, a form of the enterprises early profit-sharing. They were also a very strong part of lower-class life in Russia in the years shortly before the 1917 Revolution. The historian J.N. Westwood describes just how popular they were in his book Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-1886, 3rd Edition, (Oxford: OUP 1987)

In contrast to its attitude towards trade unions, the administration did little to hinder, and even encouraged, the co-operative movement which flourished after 1905. Producers’ co-operatives in the form of artels were already part of Russian tradition; what was new was the sudden popularity of marketing and purchasing co-operatives. There was also a blossoming of the savings bank movement. by 1918 the co-operatives’ membership was equivalent to about one-third of the total population. The biggest co-operative retail store was Moscow’s Kooperatsiya, which had 210,000 members. There was a co-operative wholesale union, (Tsentrosoyuz), and in 1911 a People’s Bank had been founded. The latter, the Moscow Narodny Bank, was 85 per cent owned by the co-operative movement. All this does not mean that Russia in 1914 was well on the road to socialism, but it does suggest that Russians, and especially rural Russians, had not become as individualistic as some commentators assumed. (p. 179).

Westwood also gives this description of the artels, the co-operatives formed by artisan craftsmen.

The elite among them [industrial workers] were the specialists, who often grouped themselves into a co-operative (artel), whose elected leader would seek short-term contracts in such trades as house-painting or stonemasonry.

Artels were also important in industry. They were formed by workers who capitalized themselves by paying an entrance fee. Because the members knew and trusted each other, and cherished the reputation of their group, the artels were noted for their reliability and good workmanship. In a sense the artel member was a privileged member of the proletariat, but he was found only in small-scale enterprises. The bulk of Russia’s industrial workers worked in factories. (p. 177.)

The authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986), Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuberger, and Adam Sharples also examines and considers the role co-ops played in British industry from the late 1950s to the 1980s. They state:

Workers’ co-ops are often held up as a pure form of industrial democracy. The ideal model of co-ops is one in which working people, given training and the experience of self-management, can extend their control over the work-place to strategic decisions made in the enterprise. They are owned and controlled by worker members on a one-member, one vote-basis, and not by shareholders or the state. Profitability is not the overriding objective because it is enough that the co-operative covers the costs and funds future investment. (p. 50).

They note, however, that co-ops have not always been successful. Many have failed, while others have only survived by cutting workers pay and conditions. They also note the various different forms of co-ops, such as those set up by the Quaker and Christian Socialist, Scott Bader, in 1958, which is really a form of benevolent paternalism, with the actual management structure little different from conventional, capitalist enterprises.

They then consider the problems and positive aspects of many of the small co-operatives set up in the 1970s. They describe them thus:

Many very small companies have been set up as co-ops from scratch. In the 1970s’s many people were attracted to the idea of co-ops, and over 200 sprang up as a result. Many of the people involved were middle-class, well-educated, under 35 and few had children. Typical ventures were left printers, bookshops, wholefoods suppliers, and builders’ collectives. Most are struggling financially, operating in labour-intensive sectors where the profit margin is low. They are heavily dependent on funds from local authorities, ICOF (the Movement’s funding branch) and on members’ own savings. In general, unions have played no part in their establishment and running. They often survive through low pay, unpaid overtime, and poor working conditions often close to sweated labour. An impressive degree of workers’ control is practised – with equal pay, job rotation, and sharing of responsibilities for running the firm. The members often have personal access to professional help and other resources. Their youth and background mean that questions of pay and job security are less important to them. (P. 51).

The also examine the workers’ co-operatives that were founded by employees trying to save their jobs in firms threatened with closure, in particular those at Fakenham, Meriden, Scottish Daily News and Kirkby Manufacturing. The movement here was expanded by the 1974 Labour government under Tony Benn as the Secretary of State for Industry. It was Benn, who financed the Meriden, Scottish Daily News and Kirkby Manufacturing.

These, they acknowledge, were a failure, stating:

In economic terms these co-ops have been failures. Heavily undercapitalised and in a bad market position, they were handicapped from the start. Co-op ownership could not reverse the decline of firms which capitalists had failed to run at a profit. As a result, they were forced to choose between reducing wages and accepting the very redundancies they sought to avert. Meriden only managed to prolong its life because the workforce accepted redundancies and the re-introduction of wage differentials. Such fundamental compromises have reduced workers’ control to little more than a formality.

In no case does the seem to have been any strong initial feelings in favour of the co-operative principle. most of the workers were not asserting their right to self-management. They were willing to negotiate about any proposals to save their jobs. Had it been possible to persuade new capitalists to move in, the worker’s would have agreed. Working people often have neither the confidence, sills nor financial resources to want to take on the risks involved in ownership. Faced with financial pressure, many co-ops have had to turn to middle-class managers to bail them out. (pp. 51-2).

Those founded after the mid-70s, often with the help of Labour local authorities, were much more successful. The authors go on to say

The most impressive phase in the growth of co-ops has been the most recent: there are now thirty times more workers’ co-ops than in the mid 1970s. Co-ops have had a better record of survival than other small businesses, reflecting th4e greater commitment of their members. This growth clearly reflects the increase in unemployment, which has forced many to new ways of working. The most important factor, however, has been the support provided by Labour local authorities. The range of new co-ops is extremely varied: for example, City Limits, London’s successful weekly listings magazine; Pallion Business Services in Sunderland, set up and run by a group of physically handicapped people, provides office and business services; MONS a Sheffield-based engineering co-op, has developed and produced a dehumidifier.

The kind of support Labour councils provide has been sensitive to the particular problems co-ops face. Above all, advice and management help is provide through over 70 local co-operative development agencies, reflecting co-ops’ need for assistance on starting up, product development, marketing, training and legal questions. In addition, investment finance is given through enterprise boards, the development agencies themselves, and new revolving loan funds: £7 million was given in 1985-86 alone. Co-ops are also being helped with premises, planning applications, and in liaising with local trade unions. (p. 52).

They conclude that co-ops cannot be developed from above, particularly in large and medium sized firms, and that shop stewards and employees are faced with a sharp learning curve regarding management. For some this can be too difficult, and the employees will find the experience of attempting to run a co-op dispiriting. However, they note that many co-operatives have weather the recession better than capitalist firms, and that establishing a co-op should be an option open for workers to decide for themselves.

Clearly co-operatives have a strong tradition right across Europe, from Britain to Russia. Although they can have severe problems, nevertheless they can be very successful and provide another way of developing a socialist economy, if only in part.