Posts Tagged ‘Syndicalism’

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Solidarity Pamphlet on Bolsheviks’ Destruction of Workers’ Control in Russian Revolution

September 24, 2016

bolsheviks-workers-control

Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control/ 1917-1921/ The State and Counter-Revolution (London: Solidarity 1970).

I picked this short book – 89 pages – in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. Solidarity were a libertarian Communist group that believed that the workers should operate and manage the means of production. In their statement of beliefs at the back of the book, they state in point 9 ‘We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness.’ (p. 89). This is a direct contradiction of Lenin’s belief, firmly expressed in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?, that the workers could only achieve trade union consciousness, and needed to be led to Socialism by a group of dedicated revolutionaries. The book itself states that it is a work of history, which intends to show how the Bolsheviks betrayed the revolution of 1917 by suppressing the movement for workers’ control in the factories and the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Revolution had begun when Russia’s working people rose up against Tsarism and the Kerensky government that replaced it. They formed factory committees which took over the management of the factories to various degrees in industry, and formed the soviets – councils – of working people across Russia, which formed a parallel system of popular government to that of the duma, the Russian parliament. Communist historiography has presented Lenin as fully behind these developments. He passed a decree stating that ‘workers’ control is established in the factories’ and praised the soviets, proclaiming the slogan, ‘All Power to the Workers’ Soviets’. The conventional historical view states that the workers were in fact unable to run industry, and so the government was forced to reintroduce the entrepreneurs, managers and technicians that the workers had previously turfed out of the factory gates in wheelbarrows.

This pamphlet shows that the opposite was true. From initially supporting them as a bulwark against the return of capitalism, and a necessary precondition for the nationalisation of industry, Lenin turned to active dislike and opposition, but was forced to support them for reasons of expediency. Lenin, Trotsky and their faction in the Bolsheviks really wanted Russian industry to be managed by a state bureaucracy, with a single person in command of individual factories and enterprises. Lenin adopted the slogan to present himself and his faction as fully behind the soviet revolution, while doing everything he could behind the scenes to reduce this to a mere slogan. Their practical strategy for destroying the factory committees involved incorporating them into the trade unions. These had always been under political control in Russia, partly through necessity as for most of the time they were illegal. The Bolsheviks in turn transformed these from popular organisations to campaign for better wages and conditions, to instruments of the Bolshevik party to discipline and organise Russian labour, so that it obeyed the state and the managers. It was the trade unions that set wages and determined working conditions. At the same time as they were being absorbed by the unions, the committees were gradually stripped over their powers until they were finally dissolved following the Kronstadt rebellion, which was intended to restore democracy to the Revolution by overthrowing Bolshevik rule. The Bolsheviks were also actively destroying democracy throughout the system of government and industrial management by gradually removing elections and replacing them with political appointments. As part of this, the trade unions could elect their members to the various Bolshevik political organs, but this became subject to the party’s veto. Candidates elected by the unions not approved by Lenin and his faction could be blocked.

This resulted in the construction of the totalitarian, monolithic Soviet state, while industry saw the removal of workers’ power and the return of the very industrialists and entrepreneurs, who had been overthrown. Indeed, after the failure of authoritarian ‘war communism’, with its forced requisitions of food from the peasantry during the Civil War, 1921 saw the limited return of capitalism itself in the establishment of a private sector as part of the New Economic Policy.

Not all of the Bolsheviks were in favour of this policy, and Lenin, Trotsky and their faction faced bitter opposition from a series of groups and individuals within the party, including Preobrazhensky, Osinsky, Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai, in the ‘Democratic Centralists’ and ‘Left Communists’. Despite their efforts, theirs was a losing battle and in the end they were fighting a series of rearguard actions to preserve the last vestiges of the factory committees and the autonomy of the trade unions.

Outside the party, the Bolsheviks also faced opposition from anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who also wished to preserve the factory committees from attacks from the party and the trade unions. The booklet discusses the increasing mass arrests of these, and the closure of a range of anarchist newspapers and magazines, such as Burevestnik, Anarkhia and Golos Truda (Workers’ Voice). The final demands of the Left Communists for trade union autonomy and its management of industry was also denounced by Lenin as ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’.

Apart from its description of the way the Bolsheviks overturned the founding principles of the revolution, supplanting control and management by the workers themselves, with a system of control and management by the party, its functionaries, and returned capitalist businessmen in the name of the workers, the pamphlet’s also interesting for discussing the various literature produced by the revolutionaries and their plans for instituting practical system of workers’ control. For example, the Exploratory Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd War Industries, convened on April 2nd, 1917, issued the proclamations that

From the Factory Committee should emanate all instructions concerning internal factory organisation (i.e. instructions concerning such mattes as hours of work, wages, hiring and firing, holidays, etc.) The factory manager to be kept notified…

The whole administrative personnel (management at all levels and technicians) is taken on with the consent of the Factory Committee which has to notify the workers of its decisions at mass meetings of the whole factory or through shop committees…

The Factory committee controls managerial activity in the administrative, economic and technical fields … representatives of the Factory Committee must be provided, for information, with all official documents of the management, production budgets and details of all times entering or leaving the factory … (p.2).

The Kharkov Conference of Factory Committees, held on May 29th that same year, declared that the committees should become

organs of the Revolution… aiming at consolidating its victories. The Factory Committees must take over production, protect it, develop it. They must fix wages, look after hygiene, control the technical quality of products, decree all internal factory regulations and determine solutions all conflicts. (p.4).

The Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd, held at the Smolny Institute from the 7th-12th August, also stipulated that

‘All decrees of Factory Committees’ were compulsory ‘for the factory administration as well as for the workers and employees – until such time as those decrees were abolished by the Committee itself, or by the Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. The pamphlet states that

the committees were to meet regularly during working working hours. Meetings were to be held on days designated by the Committees themselves. Members of the Committees were to receive full pay – from the employers – while on Committee business. Notice to the appropriate administrative personnel was to be deemed sufficient to free a member of the Factory Committee from work so that he might fulfil his obligations to the Committee. In the periods between meetings, selected members of the Factory Committees were to occupy premises, within the factory, at which they could receive information from the workers and employees. Factory administrations were to provide funds ‘for the maintenance of the Committees and the conduct of their affairs’. Factory Committees were to have ‘control over the composition of the administration and the right to dismiss all those who could not guarantee normal relations with the workers or who were incompetent for other reasons’. ‘All administrative factory personnel can only into service with the consent of the Factory Committee, which must declare its (sic!) hirings at a General Meeting of all the factory or through departmental or workshop committees. The ‘internal organisation’ of the factory (working time, wages, holidays, etc.) was also to be determined by the Factory Committees. Factory Committees were to have their own press and were ‘to inform the workers and employees of the enterprise concerning their resolutions by posting an announcement in conspicuous place’. (pp. 8-9).

The Wikipedia entry on Solidarity states that the group was always small, but played a disproportionately large role in the industrial disputes of the 1970s and the campaign for workers’ control and management in industry. The system of complete workers’ control set up during the Russian Revolution is far too extreme to be popular in Britain, at least at present and the foreseeable future. Worker’s involvement in management has still been put back on the agenda, even if in a half-hearted way by Theresa May, no doubt as a calculated deception. The pamphlet itself remains a fascinating description of this optimistic movement in Russian revolutionary history, and its betrayal by the Communist party, and is an important corrective to the standard view that workers’ control was fully supported by them.

The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System

September 16, 2016

I’ve already put up several pieces about how a wave of strikes are spreading across the American prison system by convicts fed up of being used as cheap, slave labour for big business. In this short piece by The Young Turks’ Hassan Piker, he begins with a quotation from Dostoevsky that a country’s state of civilisation can be gauged from its prisons. And Dostoevsky had personal experience of which he spoke. He was sent to a Siberian prison in which he was bound hand and foot. Piker gives the statistics on the immense size of the American prison population, and how the number of convicts on work programmes for outside corporations. Those companies involved include McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and Walmart. Defenders of the programme say it teaches the cons valuable skills. But Piker points out that they have no union representation, and are paid 23 cents a day, much less than the minimum wage. Piker points out that the prisoner making shirts for McDonald’s is making even less than the person wearing it. Freedom for Alabama, one of the groups involved in the protests, states that this is a form of slavery, as defined and protected in the American Constitution. This outlaws slavery and forced labour, except for the convicted of a crime. Despite the abolition of slavery, this still effectively exists in American prisons, with inmates subjected to various degrading and painful punishments, including the investigation of their bodies ‘as if we are animals’. He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed. The strikes are taking place nearly 35 years after a similar strike by prison workers in 1971. The strikers are aiming not just to improve their conditions, but also to bring down the entire corporate system that has massive boosted the American prison system. Piker comes down firmly on the side of the strikers, but states that many people may not listen to them because of who they are.

The size of the corporate prison system and its corruption of American justice is a major problem over there, and is also an increasing problem on this side of the Atlantic. At the heart of it is the private management of prisons. The companies running them frequently have contacts with politicians and judges in their states. They donate to politicians’ election funds, and put pressure on them to pass harsher legislation on crime. At the same time, the may also have judges on their payroll, whom they also persuade to pass tougher sentences on criminals to send them to prison. Where they can be used as cheap labour for the corporate profit of the prison and the contracting outside company. Michael Moore, the Capped Crusader, in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, covers the case of a young girl, who was given a custodial sentence to an adult prison for truanting from school. The presiding judge in her case was on the payroll of the local prison company.

Private prisons have been introduced over here. I think they might have been introduced under John Major’s Conservative administration. They certainly were under Tony Blair’s, who was very cosy with Wackenhut, one of the leading American private prison firms. Mike ran an article a few weeks ago pointing out that British prisons were also using convicts as slave labour for their firms’ profits, and that this was perverting British justice in exactly the same way the system was over the other side of the Pond. The strikes are led by the syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, and have spread to 40 prisons in 25 states. The incarcerated workers have a point, despite the crimes for they personally have been committed. The system should be stopped, both in America and over here.

I.W.W. Issue Nationwide Call for Prison Strike in America

September 10, 2016

Yesterday, Counterpunch published the call from the I.W.W. Incarcerated Workers’ Organisation Committee calling for a nationwide strike in American prisons against slavery. This is the use of prisoners as unpaid labourers for private companies. The I.W.W. is the syndicalist trade unions, nicknamed the ‘Wobblies’, which was at the forefront of American working class radicalism in the early 20th century. It still exists to day, and has a branch in Bristol, which meets at one of the radical bookshops in Bristol’s Old Market. The call begins

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

The prisoners go on to state that they need popular support on the outside. They describe the impact the slave system in American prisons has on the wider community. Ordinary citizens are arrested and sentenced to prison for the specific purpose of providing unfree labour for these private companies. They also talk about the ‘extra-judicial executions’ of Black Americans, naming a few of the victims. This is related to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against the complete disregard some members of the American police have for the value of human life in shooting Blacks, regardless of the severity of the crime, or even if there is any crime at all. Several of the victims have been innocent.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

I’m quite aware that criminals in the prison system are hardly innocent victims, and that many are guilty of the most vile offences. But in this case, they have a point: they are being used as slave labour for private profit, and this is affecting the wider community. In America, the private prison corporations donate money to the political parties and for the election of judges, so that they will run on a platform of being tough on crime. The local political candidates are effectively bribed to pass laws introducing harsher penalties, and judges are effectively bribed to pass longer sentences. There’s a case in one of Michael Moore’s films, Capitalism: A Love Story, we he discusses the case of a teenage schoolgirl sent to jail for truancy, because the beak was connected to the local prison company, which wanted more slave labour.

Nor is this iniquitous system confined to America. Mike put up a piece several weeks ago, discussing the highly exploitative conditions in private prisons, in which prisoners are used as unfree labour for British companies. Mike made the point that we cannot close our eyes to such exploitation in this country, and claim that it doesn’t happen here. It does. Of course criminals should be punished, but it’s one of the fundamental cornerstones of the concept of justice that the punishment should fit the crime. The exploitation of prisoners as unpaid workers goes directly against this. As a punishment, it’s only an excuse for their exploitation for the profit of big business.

The strike has spread to something like 24 states and 40 prisons all over America, according to a report on Democracy Now! Over on this side of the pond, we need to start thinking about how we can stop the exploitation of prisoners for corporate profit over here.

Let’s Get Fascist with Neoliberal Corporatism

August 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vox Political on the Labourist Owen Smith on Newsnight

July 27, 2016

Mike the other day also put up a piece on Owen Smith’s performance on BBC’s Newsnight. Mike and a number of other opponents of Blairite neoliberalism found it a cheering experience. It wasn’t quite a car crash, but, according to Mike, there were still some heavy swerves. He also observed that although Smudger mostly managed to control himself over Corbyn, he still felt constrained to sneer at him for his perceived lack of patriotism, and claimed that Corbyn had only had just over half the votes in the election, far underestimating the amount of support Corbyn had and has.

What I found particularly telling was the way Smiffy refused to use the word ‘Socialism’. He instead used the term ‘Labourism’ instead, to the manifest incredulity of the interviewer. In actual fact, historians of the Labour party and political scientists have for a long time made a distinction between ‘socialism’ and ‘labourism’. Socialism means the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. It can take many different forms, from co-operatives through to state ownership, or collective ownership by trade unions, as in Syndicalism. It may also involve different degrees, from complete nationalism, as in the former Soviet Union, to a mixed economy, as in Britain and most other western European countries before Thatcher and the Neoliberal devastation of our public life.

Labourism, on the other hand, simply means anything that benefits organised labour. For a couple of decades after its foundation, there was a tension in the Labour party between the trade unions, or some of the elements in the trade unions, and the various Socialist bodies. Some of the trade union members wanted the Labour party to concentrate on protecting union rights, such as the right to strike and picket, and fighting to obtain better wages for working people. Furthermore, under Lloyd George’s introduction of the first, preliminary foundations of the welfare state, trade unions could serve as the official bodies for the administration of the social security and healthcare schemes, along with private insurance companies. This has been described as a ‘labourist’ policy, as it was designed to help working people, but was not a socialist measure in that it did not involve the state or collective ownership.

I was also told by a friend last week that the Labour party has removed the term ‘Socialism’ from its constitution. I’m not surprised. Blair was not a Socialist by any stretch of the imagination. He got rid of Clause 4, the clause in the Labour party’s constitution that pledged the party to nationalisation and collective ownership. I’m not surprised that New Labour, in order to endear itself to all those darling swing voters and the aspirant middle classes, as well as rich donors, dropped the ‘socialist’ label as well.

But Smudger isn’t a labourist, either. Blair and New Labour hated and distrusted the trade unions, and have done everything they can to deny them any effective power to oppose the increasingly punitive and exploitative employment legislation. Legislation introduced not just by the Tories, but by the Labour right. Blair and Brown talked rubbish about the need to support flexible labour market policies as well as social justice. In practice, the Warmonger and his grumpy sidekick jettisoned social justice, as again, swing voters, the aspirant middle class, and the media barons, like Murdoch, all had the vapours when faced with it.

So Smiff isn’t a Socialist, nor proper labour. He didn’t oppose the Tory welfare cuts, and I doubt very much that he wants to anything about the employment legislation that is driving people in this country into poverty – the zero hours and short employment contracts, the proliferation of unpaid internships, workfare and all the rest of the vile schemes designed to make working people as poor and as desperate as possible.

He and the rest of New Labour – Progress, Saving Labour and the rest, are bog-standard Tories, and nothing else. They should leave the party and cross the floor to their true political home.

Useful Book: Socialisms: Theory and Practices, by Antony Wright

July 2, 2016

Socialisms Cover

(Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987)

I was asked a few weeks ago by some of the commenters here what the difference between Socialism and Communism was. In fact, apart from democratic Socialism, which most people understand as Socialism, there is a bewildering variety of difference types of Socialism, and socialists have often strongly disagreed with each other about what it means and how it should be carried out, while advocating the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Anthony Wright was the lecturer in political studies at the Department of Extramural Studies at Birmingham University. His book, published nearly three decades ago, has the subtitle on its front cover ‘Why Socialists disagree – and what they disagree about’. It discusses the different forms of Socialism, and the disagreements between them.

The blurb states:

One third of the world’s population now lives under a regime which describes itself as socialist. But what precisely is socialism? Marxists claim that they are the only true socialists, but this is hotly denied by Trotksyists, Anarchists, Fabians, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats and members of the many other ‘socialist’ movements.

In this lucid and unintimidating introduction to the subject Anthony Wright argues that the contradictions, rivalries, and antagonisms within socialism arise from the absence of a single socialist tradition. The very word ‘socialism’ has (as R.H. Tawney put it) ‘radiant ambiguities’.

Socialisms develops this theme throughout a wide-ranging analysis of socialist theories and practices, and concludes, provocatively, with a look at the future prospects of contemporary socialisms.

As you can see, the book was written before the collapse of Communism, and neoliberal economics had infected the western socialist parties with different forms of the ‘Third Way’. It’s quite short at 137 pages, with different chapters on ‘traditions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doctrines’, ‘methods’, ‘actors’ and ‘futures’. In his conclusion, Wright looked forward to the rigid divisions between the different varieties of socialism breaking down, so that socialists of different persuasions can learn, and profitably borrow from each other.

The Reason the Press Hated Livingstone: His Support for Worker’s Control

June 6, 2016

Right at the beginning of the chapter on the press’ vicious campaign against Ken Livingstone and the GLC in Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, there’s a snippet of dialogue between Livingstone one of the gentlemen of the press, in which ‘Red’ Ken – actually never a Marxist, despite the press’ claims – expressed his opinion that factories should be run by their workers, and schools by parents and teachers. This idea was simply rubbished by the interviewer. Hollingworth considers that this shows the fundamental reason why the press hated Livingstone with such bitterness. They really didn’t like the idea that ordinary people could or should run things. Hollingworth writes

During an interview with Terry Coleman, the former Daily Mail columnist who writes for the Guardian, Ken Livingstone remarked that he believed every factory should be run by its workers and each school by the parents and teachers.
‘Chaos’, replied Coleman.
‘No, no, no,’ said the GLC leader. ‘Concentrations of power produce chaos.’
‘But surely few people could run anything,’ responded Coleman. Livingstone then said that everyone was capable, given a chance, and that there was, for instance, nothing special about him.
‘Rot,’ replied Coleman.
‘No, seriously,’ said Livingstone, ‘that potential is there in everybody’.

That conversation revealed as much about Fleet Street as it did about the politics of Livingstone and the Labour group he led on the Greater London Council. It showed that one of the key factors behind the press hostility to the labour movement was their intense opposition to syndicalism – whether political, industrial or cultural. That in the eyes of editorial management, groups of ordinary people were incapable of running their own affairs. And it was neither practical nor desirable.

This attitude came into direct conflict with what the Labour group of GLC councillors were trying to do between 1981 and 1985. Their view was that people did have the potential for self-management – from tenants’ associations on council estates to workers in factories. Also that the GLC would be a political and financial peg on which a whole range of groups in London – Blacks, workers, Irish, women, gays – could hang their grievances, fulfill their capabilities and combat discrimination.

This may sound highly utopian and idealistic, but it was what the GLC administration tried to do on a local government level. ‘Socialism,’ said Livingstone in December 1983, ‘means people having day-to-day control over their own lives.’

It’s probably no surprise that this put Leninspart in conflict with the right-wing press. Thatcher talked a lot of waffle about liberating people – all that stuff about how ‘there is no such thing as society, only people’ – but the only people she wanted liberated were the owners of capital – financiers and businessmen. The workers were simply there to work, and respectfully take their orders and their beating from an increasingly macho management style. When Ken talked about liberating people, he meant it for the working class and other, traditionally excluded and marginalised groups. And that terrified the editors of the Express, Mail, Scum and the others. I can remember Ken appearing on a page of photographs of supposedly dangerous subversives published in the Sun, which one of the right-wing students at College had stuck to the wall outside his room. Under Ken’s photo was a quote, in which the scourge of the Thatcherites declared that he didn’t believe in the army, but wanted the workers to be armed to defend the factories.

Lenin introduced worker’s control in the factories for a short time during the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but quickly reversed the policy as it didn’t work. On the other hand, the experience of the Spanish anarchists and Syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War shows that workers could run industry, though some political scientists have suggested that this would probably break down in the large scale industries now common in the developed world. Nevertheless, that aspect of the anarchist experiment in Spain was successful, and it does provide some support for Ken’s views. Which is enough reason for the press to hate and fear him.

And just how much the Tories hated him is shown in one of the more bizarre stories in that chapter. Apparently one of Livingstone’s Conservative opponents woke up an hour earlier every morning so that he could give himself another hour in which to hate Livingstone. We are dealing with some seriously deranged right-wingers.

American Labour History: Film about the ‘Wobblies’

May 8, 2016

This is a fascinating film by the Women’s Film Preservation Unit about the I.W.W. The International Workers of the World, or ‘Wobblies’, as they were called, were a radical American Syndicalist trade union formed at the beginning of the 20th century. They were called ‘Wobblies’ apparently because some of the Chinese workers couldn’t pronounce the ‘R’ sound, and so when they tried saying the Union’s name, it came out sounding something like ‘Wobblies’. And the name stuck.

The film traces the union’s history, from its origins to eventual demise about the time of the First World War through the memories of a group of senior citizens – old blue collar workers – who had joined it and taken part in its struggles. The Wobblies believed in the eventual ownership and management of the means of production by the workers, and the abolition of the wage system. Beyond that, as one of these elders says, they weren’t sure. They were, however, inclusive in a way that the mainstream unions, founded by Samuel Gompers, weren’t. The American Federation of Labor was a craft union that wouldn’t take unskilled labourers. Following the racial bigotry of the time, they didn’t take Blacks either. But the Wobblies did. One of the speakers is a Black man, who tells how he joined the Union because they were the only union would take and defend Black people like himself. They also took and fought for women and immigrants. Another speaker is an elderly lady, who talks about how she joined the union, and the strikes she took part in. The Wobblies allowed their women members considerable freedom, and were pilloried for it. The lady recalls how one of the accusations was that the Wobblies pushed women to the front of the demonstrations and picket lines. She replied that they didn’t. They just didn’t keep them at the back. It was up to the women themselves where they went.

They also recruited the immigrant workers that were then flooding into America as its population expanded massively to provide labour for its expanding economy. This was the period when logging began in the great wood and the railways were still being laid down across America. Workers were needed in factories, mills and docks. And so the Wobblies recruited Italians, Poles and other nationalities. These men and women too suffered tremendous prejudice and persecution for their membership of the union during the First World War, and particularly after the Russian Revolution. The Wobblies were persecuted as a revolutionary, ‘Communist’ organisation. There was a wave of xenophobia resulting in the ‘Palmer raids’, anti-immigrant police raids in which foreign workers were rounded up and deported. This was directed at the I.W.W., but the authorities frequently couldn’t find enough of them, and so just picked up foreign workers at random. It should come as no surprise that the Fascist Right in Britain in the interwar years also wanted similar raids against suspected foreign revolutionaries, or just plain foreigners, over here.

These were men and women, who had extremely rough lives, working immensely hard for poverty wages. The Black speaker describes what it was like to be a dock worker. Further on in the film, one of the other surviving workers, a White guy, was a lumberjack. He describes the appalling conditions he and the other men worked in. They were lodged in bunkhouses with no washing facilities and no mattresses on the bunks. The result was that they were riddled with lice and bedbugs. He also says that there was saying that you could smell a lumberjack before you could hear him, and you could hear him before you could see him. And the work itself was tough and dangerous. The same guy talks about the various bones he broke in accidents, including when he was crushed by a log and his entrails ‘were pushed out my tail-end’. He also shows the stump of one of his fingers, which he lost in another accident. At the camp, the dinner plates weren’t washed properly. They were nailed to the tables to stop them being stolen by bindlestiffs – migrant workers, who preyed on other tramps. They were simply hosed down after the meals were finished. Many of the workers were also farm labourers, picking fruit.

And in addition to the work, there was brutal repression by the police and management. The speakers describe armed police coming into break up the strikes, and the extreme violence used against picketing workers. Any excuse would do to get a striker into court. One of the ladies describes how she was arrested on a charge of using obscene language against one of the cops. Fortunately, she was acquitted when she told the judge, ‘You’re honour, I don’t use such language’. A week later the same cop asked her out. She turned him down, not surprisingly.

In addition to the violence from the police, there was the threat of the scab labourers recruited by management. These also came in with guns and police protection. As a result, strikes could explode into extreme violence, including gun fights. In one strike involving the dock workers, 127 people were shot to death or otherwise killed. In another incident, striking workers, who got on a boat to get to their workplace were fired upon by the management, leading to four deaths. The government became involved in many strikes, using tactics that would now be considered ‘Fascistic’. Or should be. The army were frequently called in to shoot and arrest them. During the First World War, the union left it a matter of individual conscience whether to oppose the War or not. Many did, including one who was sent to France. The reason presented for American intervention was that Europe – France and England – owed America money. So the Wobbly went down the line of American doughboys in the trenches asking them if the Europeans owed ’em anything personally. Of course they didn’t, though he describes some of the younger, more patriotic men getting angry. When the union went on strike, they were accused by the government of being collaborators with the Kaiser and the enemy. And when the Russian Revolution broke out in October 1917, they were accused of working for the Russians to bring America down. One of the ladies describes how striking men, including her husband, were rounded up by the army, and then taken to what seems like an internment camp out in the desert, loaded into freight cars with no food or water.

Much of the Wobblies’ membership came from migrant workers. In order to get to new jobs, these frequently travelled by freight train across the country looking for work. It was extremely hazardous. One of the workers describes the sadness of passing lit homes, while himself hungry. The train crew operated a racket, in which they’d charge the workers for their journey. This stopped when the union put in its own strong arm gang, who dealt out their own rough justice to them. Then there were the hijackers, who get on to a train to rob its passengers. These particularly targeted union organisers, as they frequently carried thousands of dollars worth of union fees with them. One of the tactics used against the trade unionists was to thrown them off the train, so that they fell under the wheels of the car. Again, the union was also capable of defending its members against them. When of these guys describes how they cut the letters I.W.W. onto the forehead and cheeks of a hijacker with a razor as a lesson.

One of the workers also describes how they managed to get a free ride at management’s expense. The company hired a whole load of scab workers and was paying for them to travel by train. So the Wobblies got on too and began busily recruiting them. Those that didn’t, were thrown off, so that by the time they all arrived, nearly everyone on the train was a Wobbly. Which naturally made the management furious. The lumberjack also describes the ‘stand-up’ strikes that frequently did more harm to the company than the sit-down strikes. These were basically go-slows, or work to rules, where the workers went into the forests for work, but either vanished, or did as little as possible. And the former dockworkers describe how the union supported starving workers with soup kitchens, and that after they won the dispute, the leaders organised a banquet for the workers.

The Wobblies declined after the War as a result of police and state repression, and from ideological divisions in the union itself between Communists and Anarchists after the Russian Revolution. Many members felt that they ought to be trying to start a revolution in America. They were sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, and argued that the Russians had finally done it while they talked about it. The former lumberjack describes how the debates between the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary factions got so heated, that debates would frequently end in fist fights.

Although the memories of the former workers are at the heart of this movie, this isn’t simply a staid film of rather boring talking heads. Along with the speakers themselves are contemporary archive footage, newspaper headlines, and anti-Wobblie propaganda cartoons, including an animated sequence which I think may well have been from them, rather than being a contemporary film, though I might be wrong. It also includes dramatic recitation of some of the words of the Wobblies themselves. It begins with the voice of Wobblies being questioned about their country of origin, all giving various answers which avoided ‘America’, but in line with their belief that they were all indeed the Industrial Workers of the World. It also includes some of the words of the American capitalists against whom the I.W.W. were pitched in battle, and these are very ugly. One industrialists stated that the man who did not pay his workers below the minimum wage level, robbed his shareholders. Forget Dave Cameron’s and his Republican counterparts’ in America smooth words about the Tories being ‘for hardworking people’: this is the true, brutal face of capitalism.

The film’s also enlivened considerably by the songs of the Wobblies themselves. The Union was known for its songs, and many of the workers interviewed describe keeping their song books with them, or singing during the strike to keep their spirits up. Some of these are beautiful pieces of American folk song, often with a wry humour, like ‘Hooray, I’m a Bum’. I don’t agree with some of the anti-religious sentiment in a couple of these, though I can see why they were written. They were produced at a time when many towns passed laws against street orators, with the exception of the Salvation Army. The Wobblies themselves used to set up meetings in the streets to recruit new members, with the speaker himself standing on a soapbox. The police would arrest them while leaving the Sally Ann speakers alone. And so there developed a vicious rivalry between the two organisations for speaking pitches. Looking through the music credits, I saw that one of the arrangements was sung by Peggy Seeger and England’s own Ewan MacColl, the father of British pop singer Kirsty, and writer of the classic ‘Dirty Old Town’.

It also uses paintings of some of the strikes, presumably created by the workers themselves. These are naturally naïve in style, but nevertheless constitute valuable pieces of folk art from one of America’s most notorious outsider groups.

This is a fascinating, harrowing, exuberant movie about a labour group that is little known over this side of the Atlantic. Looking down the list of comments on the Youtube page, one of the commenters remarked that this is the type of history that’s been removed from the official version. Indeed it is. It’s the type of history that at one time would have made it onto Channel 4 or possibly PBS in the Land of the Free. Now you’re only likely to see it either on BBC 4, or at your local arts cinema.

A Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management: Part Three

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

I’ve just put up two pieces, Parts 1 and 2, of this post, on a pamphlet I picked up years ago when I was a member of the Fabian Society. As I wrote in the first part of this essay, it was written by a ‘Guild Socialist’ – a British form of Syndicalism – to a shop steward, urging him to chose the most responsible and capable personnel to set on the shop stewards committees that had been set up in many factories in order to aid the war effort. The Guild Socialist believed that this would show management and employees that such councils, rather than being trouble-makers, were serious, capable partners in industry. Such an approach would immensely help workers’ demands for a greater share in industry.

Workers’ control is still a radical idea, but such a system of factory councils exist in Germany, Austria and Sweden. There was a similar system of workers’ control in Communist Yugoslavia. The shop steward’s committees mentioned in the pamphlets were councils set up to manage industrial disputes in the war time industries. Workers were forbidden to strike, but were given a place in management. These councils were largely dismantled after the war, as it was felt they placed too great restrictions on the unions’ ability to bargain. The councils did survive, however, in the Whitley Councils, that had been set up during the First World War in the Civil Service. I think these have since been dismantled under the Tories.

I put up the pieces from this pamphlet, not just because I agree with the general principle that workers’ should have a role in industrial management, but also to make a point about the value of trade unions themselves. Mike earlier this week put up a long piece on how workers have benefited from trade unions, after he was told by a woman when he went canvassing at the weekend that she wouldn’t vote Labour ‘after what the unions did to us’.

This clearly is a reference to 1979 Winter of Discontent, to which the Tories continually refer ad nauseam to justify their attacks on the unions. I’ve already put up a piece from one of the history books stating that Britain in the ’60s and ’70s was not unusually strike prone, and that most of the strikes in Britain were carried out according to the law, often with very good reasons behind them. And this pamphlet shows that even the radical wing of British trade unionism in the 1940s – that section that wanted a quasi-syndicalist reconstruction of society – did not do so out of a desire to cause mischief or deliberate disruption. Rather, they believed in efficiency, and that the workers on the shop floor quite often knew more about what was needed than a management, content solely on the maximisation of its own profits.

And, quite honestly, ‘Guild Socialist’ has a point. BHS collapsed, throwing 11,000 people out of work, because its chairman, Philip Green, starved it of investment. He did very well out of it, however. He may have left the company with a black hole in its pension fund of over half a billion pounds, but his ill-gotten gains was nicely stored in an offshore tax haven. Plus he got to buy a £400 million + yacht.

And this hasn’t been the only case of such flagrant mismanagement.

There have been a number of studies which show that the best run companies are unionised. This reinforces the point, repeated again and again in the Guild Socialist pamphlet, urging responsibility and competence. But Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of their cronies in big business aren’t interested in competence. Only in profiteering and impoverishing and exploiting the workforce. And they’re wrecking British industry to do it.