Posts Tagged ‘Thatcher’

Vox Political: Report Recommends Commissioner to Protect People with Learning Difficulties

February 23, 2016

This is another fascinating piece from Vox Political. According to the Grauniad, Stephen Bubb, the author of a report on abuse of people with learning difficulties at a care home near Bristol, has recommended that a special commissioner should be appointed to protect them. See:

It’s an interesting idea. The piece points out that there is already a children’s commissioner, following the horrific maltreatment and death of Victoria Climbie. Continuing the Classical theme from my last post about Boris Johnson, there’s a kind of precedent for all this in Ancient Greece. I can remember reading in one of the books at College that one of the Greek city states – probably Athens – had an ‘archon for women’ – effectively a ‘minister’, to investigate causes of complaint raised by them. This followed a women’s strike or strikes similar to the sex strike portrayed in Sophocles’ Lysistrata. There was, I believe, also radical working class Communist movements, which formed the basis for another ancient Greek play, The Ekkleziae. In the case of women, today that’s resulted in calls for greater representation of women in parliament and politics generally, but that simply wasn’t considered in the very patriarchal political environment of the ancient world.

It’s an interesting idea, but I honestly don’t know how effective such a commissioner would be, even if one could be set up. The Tories don’t like bureaucracy, and especially not when it deals with disadvantaged groups. Mike’s undoubtedly correct when he says that there’s little chance of such a commissioner being appointed under Cameron. I feel that if a commissioner were appointed, it would only be a cosmetic measure. The institutions within the civil service which are supposed to be the government in check seem to be all too willing to bow to their every whim. For example, Mike had to fight long and hard to get the DWP to concede that it had to release the figures of the number of people with disabilities, who had died after being found fit for work. The Department did so only exceedingly grudgingly, and the Information Commissioner at many points seemed very willing to accede to the government’s wishes, rather than get them to release the information. Privacy and civil liberties groups have also expressed alarm at the way the government watchdogs, which are supposed to protect us from the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the intrusive acquisition of personal data by the state, have done no such thing, or have made only the flimsiest of protests.

It’s a good idea, but I’m pessimistic about how it would work out. Even if Cameron appointed one in the first place. And I doubt he would. I think the home at the centre of the abuse scandal is privately run. Cameron definitely does not want anyone to take any action that might impugn the mighty efficacy of private enterprise. It’s why, after all, Nikki Morgan, the education minister, refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s question about how many privately run academies have had to be taken back into state management. The last thing Cameron and his crony capitalists want is another report stating that private enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean quality care, and the expansion of the powers of the state. The Tories are, after all, the party of Thatcher, and that’s what she hated the most. The frontiers of the state have to be rolled back, and who cares if the poor and the disabled are abused and victimised.


Meme on Capitalism and Low Wages

December 31, 2015

I found this meme over at 1000 Natural Shocks (over 18s only), explaining the real reason why capitalism will collapse.

Low Wage Capitalism Cartoon

This was actually one of the contradictions realised by the critics of orthodox economic theory, such as Major C.H. Douglas, the inventor of the Social Credit movement. He argued that Britain was suffering from ‘poverty amidst plenty’, where goods and services were available. It was just that ordinary people couldn’t afford them. He therefore recommended giving people vouchers as well as money so they could purchase food and other necessities.

Social Credit never took on, except in Western Canada where it’s another far-right, Nazi movement by any other name. The problem Douglas identified is real, and is getting worse. It was supposed to have been solved by Keynesianism and the welfare state, but as that was ostentatiously junked by Thatcher in favour of monetarism – though she did surreptitiously return to Keynesian economics later in her regime – the problem has got worse. It’s why a town in Canada and now Finland have tried to eradicate poverty by giving all their citizens a guaranteed income, and why similar schemes are being backed by parts of the German Social Democrats.

Vox Political on the Rise in Suicide under the Tories

February 21, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this article, The UK’s main growth area continues to be SUICIDE, reporting the rise in suicide under the Tories. The article begins

The Office for National Statistics has released the latest figures on suicide, which show that the proportion of people taking their own lives has grown faster than the UK economy.

The statistics cover the calendar year 2013, when the economy grew by 1.7 per cent – but suicides increased by more than double that amount – four per cent. This writer has seen unconfirmed estimates that suggest a rise of 12-13 per cent since the Coalition Government took office in 2010 – that’s up by one-eighth.

The mail suicide rate in 2013 was the highest since 2001, at 19 per 100,000 members of the population. This was almost four times higher than the female rate (5.1 per 100,000), which has stayed constant.

As Vox Political reported back in 2012, suicide continues to be the most reliable indicator of the UK’s true economic activity: The highest suicide rate among the English regions was in North East England, at 13.8 deaths per 100,000 population, while London had the lowest at 7.9 per 100,000. The Northeast has been one of the areas hardest-hit by the banker-engineered recession and Tory-engineered cuts (if not the hardest-hit altogether); London has benefited the most from government investment.

Mike reproduces the graph figures, and shows that most of the victims are late middle aged men, who stand little chance of finding work after being made redundant.

The article’s at Go and read it.

The male suicide rate has gradually overtaken the female since the 1970s. As Mike’s commenters point out, there are a number of personal, emotional reasons why men try to kill themselves, rather than seek help for depression. Part of this may be due to some aspects of the traditional conception of masculinity: rather than show weakness, men suffer in silence until it becomes too great to be borne. Also, women tend to have better social networks than blokes, and this helps to share the misery and give them support.

The Faily Heil also covered this topic over two decades ago, and as you could expect from this newspaper, it decided that part of the problem was the emasculating effect of modern feminism and the entry of women into the workplace.

In fact, I don’t think it can be reasonably doubted that the social and economic changes put into practice by the Coalition have contributed to the growth in suicide. The massive de-industrialisation committed by the Tories meant that many were thrown out on the dole with little chance of getting another. Without a pool of reasonably well-paid workers to purchase their products, local businesses also die. And this is apart from the failure of many high street shops to compete with on-line retailers. The result is the landscape of depressed, struggling towns up and down the country, and high streets lined with empty shop fronts. It’s an environment that creates despair.

Added to this is the harsh misery created by the government’s own workfare programmes, which are designed to make you feel miserable and helpless.

And behind all this is the Conservative conception of society itself. This is the liberal, ideal of society as composed of rational, competing individuals. It’s the Hobbesian view of human society, not as communities made up people bonded together by shared occupations and interests, but simply composed of alienated social atoms, waging ‘the war of each against all’.

A little while ago researchers looked at the incidence of heart disease. By looking at Civil Service records, they found that the groups that suffered the most were the people at the bottom of the employment ladder. Those at the top remained in good health. This really is no surprise, as if you’re at the very bottom of the ladder, you’re under much more stress than those at the top. One of the top civil servants interviewed for a programme on this broadcast by the Beeb said he didn’t feel unduly stressed, as when he got his job in Whitehall, he viewed all the splendour of the historic buildings and the pomp and authority of his position as being for him.

The way people can circumvent this destructive stress, is by developing strong social bonds. The researchers found that one of the groups that had successfully bucked the trend in heart disease was a community of Italian-Americans. They had strong social bonds, including worshipping together at the local church and actively participating in the church community.

Not everyone is religious, and certainly not in an increasingly secular Britain. Traditionally, there have also been other social bonds, which would also have provided some of the same functions. These would have included trade unions, sports clubs, the traditional British boozer, and work social clubs. These have all come under attack from the type of highly competitive, fiercely individualistic capitalism that has emerged in the past few decades. Thatcher set out to smash the unions and working class solidarity. Pubs are closing at a rate of knots as they are unable to compete with the cheaper booze you can drink at home sold in supermarkets and off-licences, and many businesses simply have no interest in providing for their workforce. Quite the contrary. And the sports clubs have all got long waiting lists as councils have been forced to close or sell off sports facilities.

The result is that the traditional social networks that helped to giving meaning and social support, especially to men, have been cut. For a few, the despair this has engendered has become unbearable.

The causes of suicide are complex, and quite often very personal to the individual who took the step of ending their life. But a good step in at least cutting the number of people taking their lives would be to try and restore economic health to struggling areas, and rebuild the communal ties Thatcher destroyed when she said, ‘There is no society. There is only people’.

And it means challenging the hierarchical assumptions of the Tories. As the saying goes ‘We all have equal worth’.


Movie Review: Black Sea and Mark Kermode on Countdown to Zero

December 6, 2014

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the submarine thriller, Black Sea. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s been advertised on the TV, and the basic plot is that a group of British and Russian divers and submariners get together to search for a sunken German submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. The sub’s cargo is a consignment of gold from a loan the Germans extorted from Stalin during the brief period of peace during the Nazi-Soviet pact prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Ethnic tensions between the Brits and the Russians, and personal betrayal leads to a series of catastrophes that eventually scupper the mission and lead to a battle for sheer survival. It’s a taut thriller, with much of the tension derived from the situation of desperate, dangerous men working in a highly confined, dangerous environment, while trying to avoid detection by the authorities.

Despite the ethnic friction between Brits and Russians, I also found the film optimistic in its portrayal of relations between the two nations. The two leading characters, who set it up, one British and one Russian, are friends living in London. Even after the outbreak of violence, the hero and his Russian counterpart continue working together and try to prevent its escalation. Even after the end of the mission, the friendship between the few surviving crew, Russian and British, continues. I liked it, because not only does it show the current reality in that since the fall of Communism, people from the former eastern bloc, including Russia, have come over here to live, work and set up businesses, but that friendship co-operation between Brits and Russians is as much the norm, indeed possibly more normal, than chauvinistic distrust.

Glasnost and the Rise of a Shared Pop/Rock culture

In this respect, it’s a slightly better world than when I was growing up. I was at secondary school during the new Cold War between Reagan, Thatcher and the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. It was an absolutely terrifying time, when many people feared that at any second the world would end in a flash of gamma radiation and fall out. There were some truly horrific films, like Threads and The Day After on American TV, showing what a nuclear war and its consequences would be like, along with documentaries about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. It was very much a cause for celebration when tensions eased when Reagan and Gorby started to talk to each other around the negotiating table in Iceland, and the USSR began to open up to Westerners and western influences. The first pop video I bought was of UB40’s concert in Moscow, not so much because I liked the great Reggae popsters themselves, but because I was fascinated and delighted by the fact that they were now playing live in Russia in front of their fans from that side of the former Iron Curtain.

And the same process happened in reverse too, as Russian bands and clothing became fashionable over here. The USSR always had a very strong youth culture, and they were not as nearly as backward as was often portrayed in the British press. If you believed the Sun – I know, that’s a very big stretch, but go with it – then the young and cool in the Soviet Union had only just caught up with the Beatles in the 1980s. In fact, the Soviets had a large skinhead culture, who were, I was told at College, referred to by the rest of the Soviet press as ‘British horrors’. A massive Heavy Metal rock culture developed extremely rapidly. The greatest and most visible exponents of Soviet Heavy Metal were the mighty Kruiz, who toured the West and whose albums were available over here. I think one of their songs was ‘Heaviest in Town’, in which the singer searches for the heaviest rock band, only to conclude ‘I’ll fly to Moscow for Kruiz’. There were also a number of other Russian bands, who were virtually unknown over here. Martin Walker, the Guardian’s Russia correspondent, tried to make people on this side of the Baltic aware of some of the best and most interesting in his column. There’s a lot of really good rock and pop in Russia and the former eastern bloc states, quite apart from some of the stuff that appears on the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re on Youtube and worth checking out.

Black Sea reflects this changed situation, and I am profoundly glad that it does and the world has moved on and improved just that little bit since the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the Russian characters shows it’s aimed partly at the Russian market. Its release during this period of strained international relations between Russian and the West over the situation in the Ukraine shows that the friendship and co-operation between Russia and Britain is now considered the natural, normal reality. My deepest hope is that this situation will continue and that our politicians will have the wisdom to build on it, and not let the conflict in Ukraine drag us back to the fear and hatred of the Cold War, that nearly destroyed our world.

Countdown to Zero and the Persistence of the Nuclear Threat

Mark Kermode is the film critic over at Radio 5 live. He’s a very literate commenter, having a doctorate in Horror film. When he was younger, he was the British correspondent for the Horror film magazine, Fangoria, or as he states it was known to aficionados, ‘Exploding Chests Monthly’. His reviews are always interesting and well argued, even if you disagree with him, such as on the subject of the Star Wars films. He dislikes them, while I really loved the first three films, and enjoyed the prequels. He also genuinely appreciates his listeners writing to him and giving their views, even when they take the opposite view to his.

One of the films he reviewed is Countdown to Zero, a documentary about what happened to all the nuclear weapons that were supposedly packed away at the end of the Cold War. The film shows that the weapons and the hair-trigger response systems are still in place. A nuclear bomb is much easier to make than may be thought, and the danger that these could fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states is very real. The film reveals how at several points after the supposed end of the Cold War, mistakes made by the superpowers could have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. I haven’t seen the movie, but it does sound like a deeply unsettling, thought-provoking movie, and the opposite of the slightly more optimistic vision behind Black Sea. Hopefully, the optimists and peace-makers will win through, and that the world won’t go back to the ideological, economic and nationalistic fears and hate that nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. Countdown to Zero shows that we shouldn’t be complacent, but it does seem that the world is just that little bit better after the end of the Cold War. And we should be profoundly glad of that.

Kermode’s review of Countdown to Zero is on Youtube at It’s well worth a listen, especially as it shows we still need to get our politicians working on a truly secure peace.


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

June 1, 2014

Kinnock Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.


We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.


“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.


“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.


“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here; ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.


The Coalition’s Fear and the Bureaucratic Burdens of the Poor

March 1, 2014

Looking at the immense bureaucratic burdens the unemployed claiming Jobseeker’s allowance face, I wonder how much of this wasn’t just an attempt to shift the blame for unemployment onto the poor themselves, but also simply to take up their time. Under the terms of Jobseeker’s Allowance, the claimant is expected to spend their time pouring over Universal Jobmatch and applying for at least five jobs per fortnight. The DWP has also announced that this system is to be extended to those on part-time work claiming Housing Benefit. This naturally takes up a lot of time.

The rationale for this, is that nobody should get something for nothing, and that the unemployed should be expected to work for their benefit through searching thoroughly for available jobs, or else be placed on Workfare, the Coalition’s version of the Nazi and Soviet forced labour schemes. It’s a hypocritical attitude coming from a front bench that, aristos to a man, owe their privileged position to inherited wealth. But it also struck me that it was a sign of the Coalition’s fear of what the unemployed and disabled might do, if they didn’t have to spend every waking hour worried about their benefits.

As part of my undergraduate history degree, I studied the French Revolution. A contributing factor to the outbreak of the Revolution and the mass execution of the aristos was a famine. This preceded the Revolution, with the irony that things were actually getting better when the French working and middle classes finally decided they’d had enough and rose up. We told the explanation for this strange fact is that people generally revolt only after the worst of famines have past. When the famine is in full force, people spend nearly all the time trying to keep body and soul together, so that they don’t have the time or the energy to take up arms.

John Aubrey, the 17th century English antiquarian, made a similar observation regarding the different inhabitants of his native Wiltshire’s ‘chalk’ and ‘cheese’ country. It is from this observation of Aubrey’s that the English idiom ‘as similar as chalk and cheese’ is derived. The cheese country was the dairy farming area of the county, a fertile area, whose people were happy, prosperous and went to bed early. As a result, this part of England was politically very stable. The chalk parts of the county had poor, much less fertile soil, and so the dominant form of agriculture here was sheep farming. As shepherds, the farmers there had poorer digestions and went to bed late. Instead of turning in at the reasonable time, they spent their evenings reading the Bible and drawing their own, heretical and seditious conclusions. As a result, they were more likely to join religious sects and take part in anti-government revolts. Aubrey was writing here about two decades after the Civil War, and the religious groups like the Presbyterians, Puritans, and Quakers, who overthrew the monarchy and established the Commonwealth.

It therefore struck me that the immense time and effort the unemployed now have to spend looking for work is partly a way of the Coalition trying to take up their time. If they weren’t forced to spend hours on end on a despairing search for jobs, then the poor and the unemployed might start doing something seditious and dangerous. They might start organising, joining organisations, criticising and demanding an end to Neo-Liberal economics. There might be more of them on marches. The National Union of the Unemployed, set up in the 1930s, might come back with a vengeance. They might start following Marx, Engels and the other socialist, anarchist and radical writers in questioning the whole economic and social structure of society. There might be riots. Even worse, those left-wing MPs in parliament that haven’t accepted the Thatcherite Kool-Aid just might be in position to effect change.

And that really would keep Cameron, IDS and their multinational paymasters awake. Rupert Murdoch definitely would not like that.

And so the unemployed are given endless hoops to jump through, and forced to spend endless hours looking for work that isn’t there, because the ruling classes are afraid that if they ever look up from the treadmill, they’ll be in a mass position to challenge them.

Best to keep them firmly on the treadmill, blaming themselves for not being able to get work, instead of realising the economy’s been wrecked for decades and the jobs simply aren’t there.


Socialist Criticism of the Financial Sector from 1986

February 28, 2014

The present savage cuts to the welfare state by the Tories and their Coalition partners are legitimated by an appeal to the massive debt created by the financial crisis of four years ago. The root cause of this was ultimately the wholesale deregulation of the financial sector by Thatcher’s government, a policy that was carried on by Major’s, Blair’s and Brown’s administrations, and which the Coalition today promotes even further. The conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has also carried a number of articles showing how the Tories’ preference for the financial sector has severely damaged British manufacturing industry. This was clear from as long ago as 1986, when the book Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Ton Manwaring, Henry Neuberger, and Adam Sharples, was published. Looking through it recently, I found this passage criticising the rise of the financial sector and the harmful effect it was having on society and the economy:

The continued growth of the finance sector is also highly significant in terms of the distribution of economic power. Industrial companies in this country have behaved as independent and usually competitive organisations, even though they have sometimes acted in alliance. But the finance sector is far more centralised, and serves as an organising focus of class power. The growth of the finance sector reflects the decreasing ability of manufacturing companies to finance investment from their own retained profits. In the era of manufacturing dominance, manufacturing companies used to finance their relatively limited investments from their own substantial profits. Since then, the underlying trend in profitability has been downwards, while the costs of new investment have increased (especially because of higher inflation). As a result, manufacturing and commercial companies have increasingly come to rely on banks for new finance, both for working capital and for fixed investment needs. This often takes the form of short-term finance through overdrafts or leasing arrangements whereby companies hire equipment owned by banks. The effect of the latter is to concentrate the control of a large amount of equipment, at least in principle, in the hands of the banks.

These development have left the banks with considerable power over industry and commerce. But the banks have not developed the same sense of responsibility shown by their German and Japanese counterparts, who have been the source of finance for their industries for much longer. The form in which British banks provide their finance does not encourage them to take a long-term view of the companies and industries in which they are involved. Recently banks have been forced by the economic recession to become more directly involved, but even when acting collectively, as in the case of the Stone Platt engineering company, they have overwhelmingly taken a short-term view.

There have also been changes in the ultimate source of finance, as witnessed by the rise of the pension funds. Thirty years ago rich individuals were the main source of outside finance for industry. But now pension funds have taken over. Some people argue that this has somehow d9ispersed the ownership of property, in a way, which has also increased democratic control. In practice, however, the members of a pension fund have no control over the way in which it is operated, and have no legal rights to challenge its investment policies. The rise of pension funds has simply concentrated even more economic power in the hands of the City institutions which operate and ‘advise’ the pension funds. It has also had the effect of providing them with greater political power: when it comes to defending the rights of property there are 13 million members of pension funds, many of them trade unionists, who can be made to feel they have a stake in the free enterprise economy. (pp. 32-3).

This pessimistic analysis has been born out to a very large extent by history, and particularly by the recklessness of the banks’ policies, which created the crash. It was this, not the Labour government’s welfare spending, that has resulted in the massive budget deficit.


The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

F.G. Nordmann: The Barricades on the Kronen- and Freidrichstrasse on the 18th March 1848 by an Eyewitness

I found this manifesto of the demands by the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee during the continental revolutions of 1848 in the ‘Vormarz’ volume of the anthologies of German literature published by Reclam. Although it was written over a century and a half ago in Germany, their demands are still acutely relevant to early 21st century Britain. Over half of the demands made by the Berlin workers have or are being attacked by the Cameron and Clegg. I thought that these demands were worth putting up here, both as an historical document showing the aspirations of 19th century German workers, and as a comment on the way the Coalition’s reactionary regime is trying to destroy everything that has been achieved to improve working peoples’ lives since then.

I last did German at school over twenty years ago, and so I apologise for my highly rocky German. If anyone with a better grasp of German than me wishes to revise some of this, let me know, and I’ll post up the original for them to see and comment on.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee, 18th June 1847

1. Determination of a minimum wage and working hours through a commission of workers and masters or employers.

2. Workers to unite for the maintenance of the living wage.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes, introduction of progressive incomes tax with the exemption of those, who only have life’s necessities.

4. The state to undertake free instruction, and, where it is necessary, the free education of youth with supervision for their abilities.

5. Free public libraries.

6. Regulation of the number of people learning a trade, which a master is allowed to have, through a commission of workers and employers.

7. Lifting of all exceptional laws on workers’ travel, namely those expressed in the itinerary books.
[This refers to the laws in Wilhelmine Germany limiting a worker’s ability to travel in search of work. Every worker was supposed to have a book listing his employment history. The laws were eventually abolished. The Labour Books, however, returned with the conscription of labour under the Nazis in the Third Reich.]

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions, to which the state should provide a measure existence for their human needs.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the expansion of the already constituted public artisans’ workshops for the education of able workers.

11.The state to provide for the helpless and all invalided through work.

12. Comprehensive right to native country and freedom of movement.
[This is another attack on the laws limiting the right of workers to move around Germany. In this case, the laws that prevented them from going back to their homes.]

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

The above are only to be dismissed from their places through the decisive judgement of a Committee.

In its demands for commissions of workers and employers, the manifesto shows the influence of the continental system of ‘concertation’, in which both workers’ and employers’ groups are consulted and represented in governmental decision-making. It’s the type of corporativism that Edward Heath attempted to introduce into Britain in the 1970s, and which was abolished by Thatcher. What Thatcher resented was not corporativism per se, no matter what she might have said about promoting free trade, but the inclusion of workers’ groups and organisation in the process. Her government still continued to include private industry in the process of government, so that the Thatcher administration has been fairly described as ‘corporativism without the workers’.

The demands for the unemployed to be given work in state workshops, and for the establishment of model workshops, is less a demand for workhouses after the British model, than for a system of National Workshops as was proposed by the French Socialist, Louis Blanc. These were to be set up by the government, but managed co-operatively by the workers themselves. They were set up by the French government in that year, but deliberately poor funding and management by the authorities, which made the work pointless and degrading, undermined them and led to their collapse.

Now let’s see how these demands are faring under Cameron and Clegg.

1. The minimum wage and working hours. Almost from the start, the Coalition has introduced a series of measure designed to get round them. This has been done through workfare, which allows the participating firms to benefit from the unpaid labour of the unemployed; internships, where aspiring young trainees are also taken on without being paid; the new apprenticeship system, which also seems less concerned with training young workers as with allowing employers to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The zero hours system has also allowed employers to cut wages, by tying workers to their employers, who only employ them when they’re needed, and so don’t pay for them when they are not. The rest of the working population, on the other hand, has suffered from a massive expansion of the working week.

2. Union of workers for the fixed wage. Since Thatcher, successive governments have shown themselves hostile to labour unions, and have done their level best to undermine them and reduce the legislation protecting workers. New Labour in its last year or so of government repealed a vast tranche of labour legislation. The Coalition is, if anything, even more opposed to union and labour legislation, with Vince Cable sputtering all kinds of threats when the public sector unions threatened to strike a year or so ago.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes and introduction of progressive income tax. The Conservatives have hated and demanded the removal of incomes tax since the 1980s. I can remember the Sunday Times demanding the removal of incomes tax and its replacement by indirect taxes following the recommendations of the decade’s monetarist economists. Now George Osborne has raised VAT to 20 per cent, and cut incomes tax for the very right. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from the working to the upper classes.

4. Free instruction and free education by the state. State education is something else that has been under attack by the Right since Thatcher. Milton Friedman urged the introduction of education vouchers, so that parents could have a choice between educating their children in the state or private sector. Guy Debord’s Cat has shown how Friedman’s reforms has led to massive inequalities in the Chilean educational system. Nevertheless, education vouchers were taken up by Ann Soper of the Social Democrats, amongst others.

The Coalition is intent on effectively privatising the school system, with schools taken out of the state system even when the governors themselves are opposed to the scheme. One of the left-wing blogs – I believe it may have been Another Angry Voice – also covered a school, which had effectively introduced school fees. The school was being run by an American company, which used its own, copyrighted curriculum. The company therefore charged the parents of the children at the school over £100 per year for their children’s use of the company’s curriculum materials.

5. Free public libraries. These have suffered massively under the Coalition’s ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’ agendas. Central government funding has been cut, and libraries have been forced to close. The intention was that they should be taken over and run for free by local community groups. In fact, few groups have members with the necessary skills or experience to take over their management. Many of those that have survived have been forced to cut staff and opening hours.

8. Lowering of the voting age. This is again another hot issue, as the Scots Nationalist wish to reduce the voting age north of the border to 16. Young people tend to be more idealistic than their elders, who have had all their dreams of creating a just world hammered out of them by life. In Scotland they also tend to be more nationalistic than their elders. The Tories thus wish to keep the voting age at 18 as at present.

The Coalition have also altered the procedure for registration for voting, with what looks suspiciously like the intention to make it so complicated that many people will be unaware of the new regulations and so lose the franchise through default.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions and support of their human needs. Osborne is a rabid Libertarian, and so despises any attempt by the state to directly interfere to promote growth through a programme of public works. It is nevertheless true that when the country has experienced a spurt of growth under Gideon, it’s been when he has adopted a Keynsian programme. So the modern equivalent of national workshops to provide work for the workers has been attacked and discarded by the Coalition.

There was a system of workshops like those advocated by the Berlin workers for the disabled. The Remploy workshops, however, have now been closed down by the Coalition, adding further hardship and unemployment for those with disabilities.

As for unemployment benefit, this has and continues to be savagely cut in order to create a pool of the unemployed and desperate in order to bring down wages. The result of this is that thousands have been thrown out of work and have no support due to benefit cuts and sanctions. As a result, people are being forced to use private charity and food banks. The country has therefore seen rising starvation and the return of diseases believed to have been banished since the 19th century.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the training of the able workers. The Coalition, as good Libertarians, are hostile to direct government intervention, and so have embarked on a comprehensive system of privatisation and the further undermining of workers’ employment rights. They are keen to support various training programmes for young workers, but these seem less about providing new skills, than inculcating the attitude in the unemployed that their inability to find a job is their own fault, rather than the government’s or the economy’s. As for the acquisition of new skills, this largely seems to be focused on computer literacy. This is indeed a vital skill, but it does not suit everyone and there seems to be little provision for the less academic. As for the new apprenticeship programme, this also seems simply a way to exploit trainee workers by not paying them the minimum wage. It also seems to be just another way to falsify the unemployment figures by claiming that the unemployed are in fact in work, while they are only on work placements and other temporary schemes.

11. The state to provide for the disabled. As with unemployment benefit, this is something else that has been savagely cut and undermined by the Coalition. Like the Jobcentres, Atos have been set quotas for people to be thrown off benefits by being falsely declared fit for work. The result has been a truly colossal death rate. As many as 38,000 per year may have died in poverty and hardship due to the governments cuts.

12. The right to one’s native country and freedom of movement. Britain in the 19th century did not have laws restricting workers’ freedom of movement as in Germany. However, rising housing costs and the Coalition’s cap of Housing Benefit is resulting in ‘social cleansing’, in which the poor are being forced out of more expensive, upmarket areas. This is especially true in London. Poor Black communities have been particularly hit, and there is resentment there about the way gentrification has forced them out of their neighbourhoods as these have been bought up by affluent, often extremely affluent, Whites.

13. Limitation of the tyranny of officials. Actually, the tyranny of officialdom over the unemployed has expanded massively under the Coalition. While there are genuinely understanding, caring staff at the Jobcentres, and even, surprisingly, within Atos, these are very much in the minority. Government policy is designed to make the process of signing on as humiliating and degrading as possible. Hence, you are harangued and pressured when you sign on. Many of the staff have real hate towards the unemployed. One female member of staff at one of the Jobcentres was caught on Facebook describing how she hated claimants and her joy at sanctioning them. Such abuse has been privatised under the Tories. An unemployed friend of mine has been repeatedly rung up at home by an employee of the company, that has the contract for getting him into work from the government. As a result, he is continually harangued by this clerk, who has claimed that they are somehow motivating him to find work.

As for workers only being sacked after a decisive judgement by an employment commission, Blair and New Labour did their level best to repeal these laws, and the Tories are pursuing the same policy with a vengeance. All in the interests of promoting a more fluid labour market, of course.

Many of the demands made by the Berlin workers in the 19th century, or their equivalents, are therefore under attack in Britain in the 21st century by a highly reactionary regime. Thatcher and the Libertarians looked back to the 19th century and Victorian values. As a result, post-Thatcher administrations have done much to remove the successes and advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries in improving the lives of the working and lower middle class. This is being done across the world in the name of globalisation and free trade, for the benefit of the multinationals paying the Tories and governments like them. It needs to be stopped. As Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto, working people of all countries, unite!


The Floods and Cameron’s Lies

February 12, 2014


I’ve put up a couple of posts recently on the lies David Cameron has told about the floods. In the first post I questioned Cameron’s assertion that the Coalition had spent more on flood defences than the Labour Party. The second post I put up was reblogged from Pride’s Purge, which provided the figures showing that the Coalition was spending far less on the floods than Labour. Further confirmation of this comes from this article from Private Eye’s issue for 20th to 23rd January 2014:

‘”There are a lot of flood defences being built,” claimed David Cameron outside a flooded village pub in Yalding, Kent, at the end of December. “But we have got to do more.”

Days later environment secretary Owen Paterson insisted that cuts to 550 flood prevention, warning and recovery jobs at the Environment Agency (EA) – splashed on by the Telegraph last week, though Eye readers read about them last year – are somehow being made “with the intention of protecting frontline services concerned with floods.” “This government is spending more than all preceding governments on flood defences,” he added. It should, but it isn’t.

Things were already bad under Labour. In 2007, official figures showed the EA missed its target of keeping just 63 percent of England’s existing flood defences up to scratch (Eye 1187); and the National Audit Office said it would take an extra $150m a year just to reach the target. But since the coalition came to power in 2010, far from tackling the flood defence backlog it has actually spent even less on flood defences.

A briefing paper last year found a 6 percent overall fall in central government funding for flood and coastal defence during the 2011-15 spending review period. Even the extra £120m announced in November 2012 – after it was revealed that 294 flood defence schemes across England were on hold after never receiving funding they’d been promised – didn’t bring spending back up to even 2010 levels.

But never mind! Government had a new wheeze to encourage local and private funding of flood defence through “Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding”. This, claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would enable “more local choice” and “encourage innovative, cost-effective options”. Alas, as the Local Government Association told parliament last year: “securing private sector contributions in the current economic climate is particularly challenging.” By 2015, just £38m for flood defence is expected to be raised from private sources – and the likely funders are firms who want to develop on flood plains.

Extra cash is available from taxpayers via the government’s “Growing Places Fund” – which is specifically for infrastructure, such as transport or flood defence, which will “unlock jobs and housing “developments. So the only way to get flood defence funded is … to build yet more on land at risk of flooding! Clever, eh?’

This piece not only shows that Cameron has been lying once again – and one wonders if anyone at the Coalition has ever, in their entire lives, told anyone the truth – but it’s also par for the course for the lamentable performance of Thatcher’s programme of wholesale privatisation. Thatcher, you will remember, was insistent that private industry would give you more choice, as well as be more efficient than state-managed monopolies and concerns. Hence the Coalition’s boast that their Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding would provide ‘more local choice’. Well, it has been demonstrably less efficient and effective at raising money for flood defences than traditional forms of state taxation, borrowing and allocation of funds. As for choice, that hasn’t noticeably been one of the Partnership’s priorities either. None of the poor souls now being flooded out of their homes and businesses in Somerset, Berkshire and elsewhere chose to be so, and the government has gone back to using state spending to combat the floods. So that’s another resounding triumph for private industry then.

Or at least it will be the next time Cameron and his cabinet start telling lies about it.