Posts Tagged ‘Steel Industry’

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

December 22, 2019

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

Boris Booed in Wales and Scotland – But Is Anyone Surpised

July 31, 2019

Boris and his fan club prepare to meet the rest of the UK

On Monday, Boris Johnson, the unelected Prime Minister of the UK, decided to grace Scotland with his presence. And, not surprisingly, he was roundly booed by the guid people north of the border. And then yesterday he turned up in Wales, and got the same treatment.

It was pretty well inevitable that he was going to get a rough ride in Scotland. A few days ago the I published a map showing the Blond Brute’s popularity in different parts of the UK. From what I can remember, it was highest down in south or south east England, where he had a whopping 29 per cent. In the English midlands or north, this fell to 22 per cent. But in Scotland only 16 per cent liked him. That high, huh? I wonder about the accuracy of these polling figures, considering how some of the polling companies are linked to the Tories, and some have been caught using leading questions. Nearly all of them, with the exception of Survation, have severely underestimated Labour’s true popularity. Which makes you wonder if these figures for Johnson have been inflated to make him appear more popular than he really is. And if they have, then how minuscule is his popularity really up in Scotland?

Some of this unpopularity goes right back to Maggie. Realising that the Tories were never going to be popular in Scotland, Thatcher decided she had nothing to lose by alienating them, and so started to use them as her laboratory. She used the country to test legislation before inflicting it on the rest of the UK. As a result, Tory fortunes fell further, with Malcolm Rifkind, one of her cabinet ministers, telling her that she had killed the Conservative party there.

And some of it is Boris’ own fault. This is the man, who thought it would be jolly japes to publish a poem in the Speccie about rounding the Scots up in ghettos and exterminating them. Among his other offences against the working people of the UK as a whole. Much of the movement for independence in Scotland has been provoked, one way or another, by the Tories and their determination to force through policies that will only benefit the London-based financial sector. Now that he’s been appointed PM by the Tory party, he has decided on going on a goodwill visit to the rest of the UK in order to show his commitment to the union. This is despite the unpopularity of the Brexit he’s so determined to force through in the rest of the UK, to the extent that it’s a positive danger to it. But presumably he felt he’d be safe up there as Rab C. Nesbitt is no longer on television. How wrong he was!

And the Old Etonian morlock got a similar reception when he rocked up in Wales. He was booed there. Again, not surprising. The farmers at this year’s Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wales were worried about the impact Brexit would have on the Welsh beef and lamb export industry. If Britain leaves without a deal, those meats will face a 40 per cent tariff in Europe. This will make them uncompetitive. Minette Batters, of the National Farmers’ Union, has said that as a result of this, there would be a massive surplus of British beef and lamb, and called for the government to look at forcing hospitals, schools and other public bodies to buy them.

According to the Times, Gove, who looks to me like a slightly melted Thunderbird puppet, has done just that, and is just finalising legislation to commit the government to buy up lamb and beef at a predetermined price, as well as some crops. This would cost the government about half a billion a year. Zelo Street in his article on this issue has wondered if Gove and the Tories also intend to buy up and subsidise British sugar beet and the dairy farmers, who have now diversified into specialist cheeses. And what about the British car industry, where investment has practically stopped because of uncertainty over Brexit. According to the Groan, the car industry here was investing between £2.5 and £2.7 billion. Zelo Street commented

Half a billion here, a few more billion there, soon it starts to add up – soon it will overhaul the UK’s current annual contribution to the EU budget.

and  concluded

There is no better deal than the one we have with the EU. The proposed antics of Mr Gove The Butcher underscore this. So when are the grownups going to stop this idiocy?

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/mr-gove-butcher-wastes-half-billion.html

This is a good question, as whatever he is, Boris Johnson ain’t a grown-up. Rather, he’s like his American counterpart, Donald Trump, a massively egomaniac manbaby.

On his state visit to Wales, Boris called in on that nation’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, a Labour politician. And he wasn’t impressed. He tried to impress on BoJob how utterly disastrous a no-deal Brexit would be for Welsh agriculture and manufacturing. Boris gave the usual assurance about the government offering help and support, but when asked about the nature of that support couldn’t give any details. Boris simply told Drakeford again that there would be wonderful opportunities for Welsh agriculture and business. And Drakeford felt that once again there was no detailed thinking behind what otherwise becomes vacuous optimism.

Quite. But this is just par for the course. Brexit has been marketed and sold to the British, and here this means largely the English people, through egregious lies and vacuous optimism. Like the big lie Boris was peddling on the sides of buses telling everyone that the £350 million we’d save from giving to the EU – which was itself another deliberate lie – would be spent on the NHS. No, it won’t. And when it became apparent that it wasn’t, Boris blustered that he hadn’t been lying, just using the NHS as an example of what the money could be spent on instead. And then, when he thought he’d got away with it, he repeated the lie all over again. Everything Boris says is just propaganda and optimistic lies.

And just like Tweezer, he’s another one who’s terrified of public appearances that he can’t absolutely control. The assembled Beeb and ITV reporters were invited to ask questions, but they couldn’t film them. We’re back to Tweezer and her  meetings with members of the public, but only after they’d been very carefully selected first. As Mike pointed out, rigid control of the press and media is one of the classic features of Fascism.

BoJob booed again as the new PM fails in Wales

But going back to Gove’s decision to buy up all the unsold beef and lamb we’re not going to sell to Europe, it’s a good question how long this will go on. Thatcher didn’t believe in the government supporting failing industries, and so let large parts of British manufacturing as well as the iron and steel industries go under. Are the Tories going to do what they normally do, and which Boris appears to be doing now – promise government support but not actually honour those promises when the time comes? And if they do, what cuts are they going to inflict on other areas of public spending, like the welfare state and the NHS, in order to balance the budget?

Boris and his entire party are inveterate liars and the Brexit he’s pushing will be catastrophic, not just for Scotland and Wales but for the UK as a whole. And the Lib Dems are no better. It’s time both of them were gone, and a proper Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn was elected instead.

 

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

January 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour’s Foundation of the NHS and the Welfare State

December 18, 2018

Every now and then the Tories try to claim that Labour did not found the welfare state. They either claim that they did, or they try to minimize Labour’s role in its foundation by concentrating instead on the fact that it was based on the proposals made by Lord Beveridge in his report of 1943. But the NHS was effectively founded by Nye Bevan, who became the minister responsible for its establishment under Clement Attlee. Furthermore, the ultimate origins of the welfare state and NHS lay with the Webb’s minority report on the state of healthcare in Britain in 1906. The Socialist Medical Association demanded a socialized system of healthcare in the 1930s, and this was taken up by the Labour party. The Fabian Society in this period also produced a series of reports arguing for the establishment of what would be known as the NHS. Francis Williams, in his biography of Ernest Bevin, another minister in that great Labour government, also describes this process. He writes of the Labour party in the 1930’s

To most of its opponents at this time the Labour party seemed to be wasting its time on producing a whole series of policy reports which stirred little public interest and which seemed unlikely to have any practical administrative significance. In fact, however, these policy reports which, beginning with ‘Currency, Banking and Finance’, went on to ‘The Land and the National Planning of Agriculture’, ‘The Reorganisation of the Electricity Supply Industry” and ‘National Planning of Transport’ (all completed within two years of the 1931 defeat) and, continuing therefore, year after year, on almost every aspect of national policy including coal, iron and steel, a National Health Service, Education, Pensions, Unemployment, Industrial Insurance, Housing and Colonial Development, provided the party with the practical programme on which it eventually secured a parliamentary majority and laid for the foundations for the packed legislative programme of 1945 to 1950. (Williams, Ernest Bevin (London: Hutchinson 1952), pp. 182-3).

Now the NHS and the welfare state is being threatened by the Tories, the Lib Dems, and the Blairites. The present Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to restore the welfare state, renationalize the NHS, as well as part of the electricity grid, water and the railways. This is all very much needed, and it’s very far from being some kind of Communist programme, as the hysterical press and BBC would like us all to believe. It’s simply a partial return to the programme of the 1945 Labour government, which gave the country over three decades of prosperity and economic growth before the election of Thatcher.

Thatcher’s policies of privatization, the decimation of the welfare state and the privatization of the NHS has resulted in mass poverty. It has increasingly been shown to be threadbare. If Britain’s working people are to be given proper jobs, proper rights at work, continuing free healthcare and a genuinely fair provision for their old age, sickness and disability, we have to go back to the old Labour programme of the ’30s and ’40s, and get May and her profiteers and murderers out, and Corbyn in.

Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka Wanted for Firearms Offences in Hungary

January 27, 2018

Remember Sebastian Gorka, who was one of Trump’s key advisers in government, before the Orange Buffoon lost his rag and sacked him, like he’s done to so many others? Gorka was of Hungarian extraction, and had strong links to the Hungarian Far Right. He wore the insignia of the Vitezi Rend, the Hungarian chivalric order set up by Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, who led the country into a pact with Nazi Germany and assisted them with the Holocaust and deportations of Jews in his country. Gorka has also been personally active in a number of Hungarian Far Right organisations, and was one of the founders of one of them.

Turns out Gorka’s a wanted man. In this clip from the David Pakman Show, host David Pakman and his producer discuss the news that Gorka is wanted for firearms offences in Hungary going back before he became a member of Trump’s cabinet. Gorka has responded to this by making a non-denial. He Tweeted that the warrant was put out after he moved to America, adding ‘moron’ for good, insulting effect. But as they point out, this isn’t actually a denial that he is wanted for these crimes. Pakman also draws parallels of moving to America from South America, where he grew up. It’s perfectly possible that Gorka committed the offences after he emigrated to the US. Just because his primary residence is now the USA, does not mean he hasn’t been back to his family’s old homeland from time to time. Just as it doesn’t mean that because someone lives in California they have never been out of that state.

Pakman and his producer also point out that this also has dire implications for Trump’s claims that he’s hard on immigration and stands for law and order. Well, no, clearly he doesn’t. He claimed he was going to be super-hard on vetting his staff. He clearly wasn’t, otherwise Gorka’s arrest warrant would have been flagged, noted, and he wouldn’t have got the job. On the other hand, perhaps he was, and the Generalissimo of Reality TV didn’t care. Pakman also contrasts Gorka with the Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, who enter America to do physical work, like labouring. This wasn’t the case of a normal immigrant, who actually does something useful, like put in windows, fix the plumbing or mow the lawn. No, Gorka was a criminal immigrant, whom Trump took into the White House itself.

The last minute or so of the clip is a piece of advertising for their sponsors. I’m sorry for this, but I realise that shows like Pakman will only survive by advertising, and need sponsorship. Because Google is desperately trying to close down any left-wing news sites on the spurious grounds of combatting fake news.

As far as Gorka’s unsavoury activities and connections go, I honestly don’t think that Trump cares. He’s surrounded himself with all kinds of deeply unpleasant characters with extreme right-wing views, like Richard Spencer and the Alt Right. A century ago Gorka’s own ethnicity would have been problem for American nativists. Back in the 1920 right-wing American ethnic nationalists really didn’t like immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, like Poles and Hungarians, because they were considered racially inferior. Hitler in his Table Talk remarks that Hungarians are ‘men of the Steppe’, which is sort-of true in that the Magyars had been steppe nomads before the entered the Pannonian March in the 9th/10th century. And the Nazis despised the Poles and other Slavs as racial inferiors. Millions of Poles and related peoples were imported into Nazi Germany to work as slave labour. However, the Nazis strictly outlawed any sexual contact between Germans and Poles as a threat to Aryan racial purity. And if you look at some of the diagrams showing the differences between peoples in Nazi texts, like the handbook given out to the Hitler Youth, they portray the Poles and the other Slavs – Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and so on – as having very Asiatic features similar to those of the Chinese and other east Asian peoples.

This racist contempt for the Slavonic peoples was reversed after the War, when the Nazis turned their attention to Black and Asian nationalist movements, and non-White immigration. The Shoah had made anti-Semitism absolutely unacceptable to most people, although in Britain and America groups like the National Front, BNP and the American Nazi Party were still goose stepping around in Nazi uniforms as late as the 1970s. Then the White Nationalists decided that Magyars and particularly Slavs, weren’t subhuman after all, and started actively recruiting them. Hence the re-emergence in these countries of anti-Semitism, now allied with a vicious Islamophobia, amongst a plethora of Far Right parties. And Sebastian Gorka’s inclusion in Trump’s cabinet of horrors, along with other prominent leaders and spokespeople for the racist Right.

Hungarian workers, like the other varied immigrant groups in America and the new, Hispanic immigrants Trump and his supporters despise, contributed greatly to building the American economy. One of the heroes of working class folklore amongst the steelworkers of Pittsburgh, was Hungarian. He became a larger than life figure, similar to Paul Bunyan in the logging camps of the West, and was reputedly able to paddle and splash in superheated molten metal. This came at a time when working people had strong unions, which could demand respect and insist on their rights. All of which has been destroyed by pernicious Reaganomics and the neo-liberal assault on the working and lower middle classes that has followed it.

We need more working class heroes like the immigrant workers, Irish, Chinese, Italian, Slav, Hungarian, and oppressed domestic indigenous groups like Afro-Americans, who physically built America, toiling on its roads, railways and factories. And as Pakman points out, the Hispanic immigrants have proved themselves invaluable in doing dirty jobs no-one else wants to do. In fact, after one town kicked them all out, it then found it had a labour shortage and appealed for them to come back.

What we don’t need, is more far Right racists like Gorka and his domestic counterparts in the Alt-Right, Klan and various Nazi parties.

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

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour Purges: Atlee’s Great Nephew Purged for Non-Existent Posts

September 12, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has posted up a series of reports about the ongoing purge of left-wingers in the Labour party over the last few days. One of the recent victims is John MacDonald, the great nephew of Clement Atlee, one of the very greatest Labour leaders, and the British prime minister, who set up the welfare state and nationalised the electricity, gas and water industries, as well as coal and steel. As with all of these suspensions, the reasons for Mr MacDonald’s suspension is entirely spurious. He received an email from the General Secretary, Ian MacNichol, stating that he had been suspended because he put up abusive comments on social media, on or prior to the 8th August. Unlike many of the accusations, this is demonstrably untrue. Mr MacDonald did not post up any abusive tweets on that date. He did, however, post a message urging people to support Jeremy Corbyn by himself and Cath Atlee, as the surviving relatives of Clem Atlee. This is undoubtedly the real reasons for Mr MacDonald’s suspension, but MacNichol can’t admit that, as it would destroy the illusion of impartiality that his side are trying to project.

And to make things really awkward for MacNichol, MacDonald ain’t going quietly. He has called for MacNichol’s suspension and calls for an investigation into his competence and ethical probity. Mike wonders in his report of this incident whether there is a mechanism by which others can add their support. After all, many people have been purged on the same entirely spurious pretext, in a system that has not allowed them to defend themselves against the charges, or even know what the evidence is. MacNichol and his cronies need to be suspended now, if there is to be any confidence left in the competence of the ruling bureaucracy.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/12/attlees-great-nephew-is-purged-by-labours-nec-for-non-existent-social-media-postings/

Who Really Hijacked the Labour Party?

July 16, 2016

A friend of mine told me yesterday that there had been a lot of ranting on the Labour party forums by the Blairites about how Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party. Unfortunately, I can believe this. Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece a little while ago, about John Spellar’s rant against the Corbynites on British television. Spellar is the most right-wing of right-wing Labour, and had angrily denounced them as ‘Trots’, ‘Communists’ and the like. Just as Chunky Mark reported in his latest rant against the Coup that Corbyn’s supporters had been denounced, not only as ‘Trots’, but also as ‘rabble dogs’.

My friend was so incensed at the accusation that Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party, that he posted a piece stating that the real hijack occurred in 1992, when Tony Blair removed Clause 4 from the party’s constitution. This was the clause drafted by Sidney Webb, one of the leaders of the Fabian Society, in the list of ‘party objects’ incorporated into the 1917 constitution. It committed the party

To secure for the producers by hand and brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. (Henry Pelling, A Short History of the Labour Party (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press 1985) 43-44.

Blair had also threatened to cut ties with the trade unions if they opposed his plans to reform the rather convoluted voting patterns in the party. But the trade unions had been an integral part of the Labour party since the ‘Lib-Labs’ – the trade unionists elected as members of the Liberal party to parliament in the late 19th century. The Labour party was founded in a conference in the Memorial Hall near Ludgate Circus, on 27th and 28th February 1900, in which the Trades Union Congress, the co-operative societies and various Socialist parties, such as the Independent Labour Party, united to plan for the representation of labour in parliament. (Pelling, 6-7).

Blair’s attempt to curtail the power of the unions, his rejection of the Socialist basis on the Labour party, and his continuation of the Thatcherite project to destroy the welfare state effectively transformed the Labour party from a party of the Left to that of the Right. Right-wing critics rightly sneered at it for being a pale-blue imitation of the Tories.

In some ways, the rejection of Clause 4 was nothing new. Tony Crosland, the Labour ideologue, who formulated the party’s programme for much of the 1960s and ’70s, was firmly against the extension of nationalisation, arguing against it in his books The Future of Socialism of 1956, and The Conservative Enemy of 1962. Hugh Gaitskell, the right-wing leader of the Labour party also tried to remove Clause 4 for the constitution. Crosland wanted to play down nationalisation, as it had proved a barrier to Labour extending its support beyond the manual working class, and attracting new groups of supporters. After the euphoria of their 1945 election victory, the party had been shocked when they lost the 1951 election. When I was growing up in the 1980s, I can remember various people telling me that they wouldn’t vote for Labour ‘because Labour wanted to nationalise everything.’ In practice, the party didn’t. It had a mandate in the 1945 election for nationalising the gas, electricity, steel, coal and transport industries. He notes that there was a rejection of sweeping nationalisation at the Labour party’s Annual Conference, and that even the left-wing members of the party declared that they were reaching the end of the natural monopolies to be nationalised, and so did not recommend any further extension of state ownership to industry, in their pamphlet, Keeping Left. (Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 323-4).

Crosland, for all his rejection of blanket nationalisation, nevertheless still believed a case could be made out for some. He also argued that there were other ways of achieving the Socialist object of providing for greater social equality that the extension of state ownership. He wanted strong, oppositional trade unions, high wages for a prosperous working class, a solid welfare state, the incorporation of the private schools into the state education system to make them accept greater numbers of pupils from ordinary, non-monied backgrounds, and the increased taxation of the rich.

Blair, Brown and New Labour have done the exact opposite. They passed laws against the welfare state and the ability of the trade unions to strike and defend workers’ rights. They picked up and revamped the academisation of state education, that had begun with Thatcher. They shifted the tax burden away from the rich. The result has been that the working class has become poorer and marginalised. Social mobility had effectively ceased before the Tories took power in the 2010 election.

Whatever the Blairites may sputter about standing up for Labour ‘values’, it is they who have done the most over the past quarter century to destroy the very basis of the party they support.

Apart from Clause 4, Sidney Webb also produced a policy statement, Labour and the New Social Order, published in June 1918, which became the basis of the party’s policy for the next 50 years. This contained four points:

1) The National Minimum. This comprised a minimum working wage, full employment, a minimum standard of working conditions and a maximum 48 hour working week.

2) The democratic control of industry. Nationalisation, and some form of worker’s control.

3) The Revolution in National Finance. Subsidize social services through the heavy taxation of large incomes, and a capital levy to pay off the cost of the First World War.

4) The Surplus for the Common Good. The balance of the nation’s wealth should be set aside and used for expanding opportunities for education and culture. (Pelling: 44-5).

All these policies are still very relevant today. Including taxing the rich to pay off war debts. It is the poor, who have suffered cuts to their services in order to service the debt created by Blair’s, Brown’s and Cameron’s wars in the Middle East. We need more of them, and to end the Blairite tendency of New Labour.

Vox Political: Brexit and Tories Damaging EU Protection for British Steel Industry

June 1, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a fascinating piece discussing and reproducing Stephen Kinnock’s detailed statements on the way the Tories’ commitment to free market Neoliberalism and the Brexit campaign are actively damaging the British steel industry. Kinnock was one of those sent to negotiate with Tata Steel about the closure of the plant in Port Talbot, and wrote the article after he returned from meeting the company’s directors in Mumbai.

He states that the Conservatives are actually planning to pass legislation to allow China to continue dumping its steel without any protective tariff blocks. They are trying to get China granted Market Economy Status. If granted, this would mean that neither the EU nor anyone else could raise tariffs to stop them wrecking their domestic steel industries by dumping their steel. As for the status itself, that’s highly questionable, considering that China’s steel industry is 80 per cent owned by the state. The Tories have also turned down the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, which gives money to states so that they can re-train workers thrown out of work through globalisation.

As for the two models for our future relationship with the EU outside it, the Canada model would result in our losing much of our industry, as it is hit by the loss of the vast market and 53 individual states that constitute the European Union. The Norway model would continue to allow us to trade with the EU, but it would force us to accept EU legislation without debate or participation, as a condition for continuing trading. And, it could be added, it still wouldn’t stop the mass migration across the continent, which has generated so much fear and support for Brexit and the Tories. Norway has been forced to accept EU levels of immigration as part of the deal for their continued trade links to Europe.

This argument against Brexit is stronger now than when it was written

This is the complete and opposite of what Cameron and Osborne want to tell us. They are not defending Britain nor making us more competitive. They are destroying British industry in favour of the Chinese. But this is quite acceptable. To Conservatives, only organised labour, like Socialists and trade unionists, are ever considered traitors and a threat to this country’s economy and industry.