Posts Tagged ‘TUC’

Corbyn to Set Up Workers’ Protection Agency

September 11, 2019

The I today has a report on Corbyn’s pledge to the TUC at their Congress in Brighton to expand workers’ rights, including setting up a Secretary of State for Employment Rights and a Workers’ Protection Agency. The article, on page 9, by Nigel Morris, runs

Labour would put power “in the hands of workers” by implementing the bigtgest expansion of employment rights in British history, Jeremy Corbyn has declared.

He promised radical action to transform everyday lives by driving up wages, improving job security and giving staff more say in how their companies are run. Mr Corbyn announced that a labour government would set up a Ministry for Employment Rights with the remit of improving pay and conditions of workers across the UK. it would also appoint a Secretary of State for Employment Rights and a Workers’ Protection Agency to enforce rights and standards in the workplace.

Reiterating the party’s pledge to repeal the 2016 Trade Union Act, he said unions would gain the right to organise in workplaces, while union representatives would be given extra protection against dismissal. 

The Labour leader received a succession of standing ovations as he outlined his plans at the TUC Congress in Brighton. He told delegates: “It’s Labour’s historic mission to transform people’s lives, and that transformation begins in the workplace.”

This is precisely what Britain’s working people need after four decades of Thatcherite attacks on trade unions, job security, employment rights, and pay freezes and the introduction of zero hours contracts. I also predict this will draw the massive ire of the Tories and the right-wing press. You can expect that this is going to be greeted with the usual accusations that it will damage the economy by making it too expensive to employ people, and a repeat of the lie that Corbyn’s some kind of Commie.

A Ministry and Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Workers’ Protection Agency comes very close to some of the ideas I put forward in my book For A Workers’ Chamber, available from Lulu. This argues that as parliament is dominated by millionaires and employers, its high time workers were also given their representation in parliament. This proposal doesn’t do that, but it should give working people the voice and protection they need.

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Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday’s TUC March

May 15, 2018

I’m a few days behind with this. Mike posted a piece on this just after it occurred, complete with the video of Corbyn speaking. So, apologies for being so late. On Saturday there was a TUC march attended by thousands of people against the Tory government and it’s austerity programme. This video by RT shows Corbyn’s speech at the event.

He talks about how we’ve had eight years of austerity, “during which real wages have fallen, there have been massive cuts in public expenditure, as well as an attack on NHS spending. All of those public facilities that have been closed around the country.”

Later on in the video Corbyn states that ‘We will not be doing a sweetheart trade deal with Trump’s government to destroy working conditions on both sides of the Atlantic’.

The stage on which he speaks has the slogan ‘A New Deal for Working People’.
The video also shows the marchers with their banners and balloons, which included the National Education Union and placards with slogans like ‘Strike, Campaign, Resist to get them out’, and one, which simply says ‘Tories Out’. RT reports that the TUC issued a set of demands for the government. These were for increased funding for the NHS and other public services; end zero hours contracts, increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour, repeal the trade unions act and clamp down on tax avoidance.

These are all policies which this country desperately need.

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.

The Bullock Report’s Recommendations on Worker Directors

September 21, 2016

The Bullock Committee was set up in 1975 to consider ways of introducing industrial democracy in Britain. One of the key players in this was Jack Jones, then the general secretary of the TUC, who persuaded his senior colleagues of its advantages and that having workers’ representatives in the boardroom would be beneficial. The report proposed the following measures:

1. Workers should have the right to elect directors onto the boards of companies with 2,000 or more employees.

2. These directors should be elected onto a single tier Main Board, not onto the upper level of a two-tier structure as in West Germany.

3. The number of worker directors should equal the number elected by the shareholders.

4. These two groups should agree on a smaller, third group of independents (the 2x + y formula)

5. Boards should be obliged by law to take account of workers’ as well as shareholders’ interests.

6. Worker directors should normally be trade unionists and be elected only by trade unionists.

7. The right to elect worker directors should apply in all companies with 2,000 or more employees, and should be triggered by workers’ request.

From John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1987) 209.

This would have been the most radical proposal for worker’s control in Europe. It was too much at the time, and the number of worker directors were cut down in further amendments to a third, and then further forms watered it down still further until it was finally abandoned. The Labour party at the time had a majority of only five, and didn’t want the bother of fighting the Tories on the issue, and there was unfortunately little support for the proposals from the unions.

If it had gone through, it would have made British industry the most democratic in Europe, and gone some way to the socialist dream of the workers actually being able to take possession of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Theresa May has recently raised the issue of worker directors, but I doubt she really means it. If she does genuinely have something in mind, it will in no way be anywhere near as radical as that. My guess it’ll be token representation, at the most. Plus there’ll probably be a clause in it saying that you will forfeit some of your other statutory rights as an employee, just like Cameron tried to introduce.

Forget Theresa May. Demand the genuine article.

Jess Phillips, Racism, Misogyny, and the Public School Feminism of New Labour

September 18, 2016

Oh, the irony! Jess Phillips, who regularly accuses her critics of misogyny and claimed she was building a Safe Room because of the abuse levelled against her, has now herself been accused of racism and misogyny. One of her victims was Mike, over at Vox Political, because he dared to suggest that misogynistic abuse perhaps wasn’t the real reason she was having it built. Now Mike has put up a piece from EvolvePolitics about Phillips herself being accused of misogyny and racism, after it was revealed that she played a leading role in having Dawn Butler replaced as chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party. Phillips disliked her holding the post, because she wasn’t an opponent of Corbyn. But Phillips has form in trying to get the few women of colour to hold posts in the Labour party removed from their positions. Last year she also had a row with Diane Abbott, in which she told the Shadow Health Secretary to ‘F*ck off’.

Jess Phillips’s feminism called into question – why is it all right for HER to target women?

I can’t say I’m surprised at her attitude. This seems to follow the sociological origins of many of the New Labour female MPs. Most of these seem to come from the upper and upper middle classes. They’re public school girls, who like the idea of expanding democracy, greater representation and rights for women and ethnic minorities, while at the same time supporting all the policies that keep the working and lower middle classes down: cuts to welfare benefits, job precarity, and the privatisation of essential services. This all follows Tony Blair’s copying of Bill Clinton’s ‘New Democrats’, who also talked about doing more for women and minorities, while at the same time supporting Reagan’s economic and welfare policies. The sociological origins of the journalism staff in the Groaniad, who have also been pushing the New Labour line against Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum in recent weeks. After they published various pieces lamenting that so few people from working class backgrounds were rising up to higher positions in society, in management and so forth, Private Eye published a little piece about the backgrounds of the paper’s own managers and journos. They were all, or nearly all, very middle class, and privately educated. This isn’t really surprising. Gladstone way back in the 19th century was very relaxed about the press not stirring up revolution in Britain, because most journalists back then were from propertied backgrounds. The book, Confronting the New Conservatism, attacking the Neocons and their pernicious influence on politics, noted that part of the problem was a broad consensus across the American ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, in support of deregulation, welfare cuts and privatisation, along with admiration for Britain, and a support by the middle class elites for affirmative action programmes as long as they didn’t affect their own children.

In short, they like the idea of equality, except when it challenges their own privileged position. As for Phillips’ racism, real or perceived, that’s also similar to the attitude adopted by one of the architects of the ‘New Democrats’, Hillary Clinton. Clinton for some reason is extraordinary popular amongst Black Americans. As part of her presidential campaign, she met a group of Black celebs, in which she tried to impress them by mentioning how much she liked hot sauce. Apparently, this condiment is a stereotypical favourite of Black folks. A lot of people weren’t impressed, and found her attitude distinctly patronising. There were sarcastic comments asking why she didn’t also say she liked fried chicken and watermelons. More serious, however, is the fact that Clinton was the architect of the punitive anti-drugs legislation, that has resulted in a much higher incarceration rate for Blacks, despite drugs being used by the same proportion of Blacks and Whites. She also made a speech about the threat of urban ‘superpredators’, when that term was almost exclusively used for Black gangs.

The sociological origin of New Labour female MPs also explains the accusations of misogyny aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. The basic line seems to be that ‘Old’ Labour, based in the male-dominated heavy industries, was nasty, patriarchal and therefore sexist. There’s an element of truth in it, in that traditional gender roles were much stronger generally, and women very definitely had an inferior position. However, this was changing in the 1980s. John Kelly, in his book Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1988), has a section, ‘Still a Men’s Movement?’ discussing the growing presence of women in the trade unions and the way these were adopting an increasing number of feminist policies as a result. For example, in 1985 32 per cent of TUC members were women. In some unions, the majority of members were female, such as COHSE, 78 per cent; NUPE, 67 per cent; and NALGO, 52 per cent. He notes how a number of unions ran women-only courses, and were adopting policies on sexual harassment, low pay, shorter working time, equal opportunities and equal work for equal pay. He notes that sex bias in job evaluation and sexual discrimination were still not receiving the attention they should, but nevertheless the unions were moving in the right direction. (pp. 134-6). Of course, the occupations in which women are strongest are most likely to be white collar, administrative and clerical jobs, rather than manufacturing. But nevertheless, these stats show how the trade unions, and therefore the organised working class, were responding positively to the rise of women in the work force. If you want a further example of that, think of Ken Livingstone and the GLC. Livingstone’s administration was known for its ‘politically correct’ stance against racism, sexism and discrimination against gays. Red Ken devotes an entire chapter in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, to feminist issues, including his proposal to set up a nationwide network of bureaux to deal with them, ‘Sons of the Footbinder’, pp. 90-111. Among the pro-women policies he recommends the Labour party should adopt were

* A universal scheme of pre-school childcare for all parents who would wish to use it.
* Equal pay for work of equal value.
* A properly funded national network of women’s centres.
* A properly funded national scheme for the remuneration of carers.
*Full equality before the law.

Livingstone was one of the most left-wing of Labour politicians. So much so that he was accused of being a Communist. Hence Private Eye’s nickname for him, ‘Ken Leninspart’. Now the Blairites are trying to twist this image, so that they stand for women’s equality and dignity, against the return of Old Labour in the face of Jeremy Corbyn and his misogynist followers. This could be seen the in a bizarre letter published in either the Graun or the Independent, in which Bernie Saunders, the left-wing Democratic contender for the presidential nomination, and Jeremy Corbyn were both accused of being sexists, because they wore baggy, more masculine clothes, suggesting their ideological roots in the masculine blue-collar milieu of the 1950s, before women and gay men started affecting fashion. Private Eye put it in their ‘Pseud’s Corner’ column, but it reflects the attitude of the middle class feminists given space in those newspapers to attack Jeremy Corbyn and genuine traditional Labour.

The fear, of course, is not that Corbyn or his supporters are misogynists. That’s a convenient lie that was copied from Hillary Clinton, who made the accusation against Bernie’s supporters after they correctly identified her as a corporate whore. She is. She takes money from the corporations, in return for which she passes policies in their favour. Just like the majority of American politicians, male and female. In fact the fear of Clinton and the rest of the Democratic party machine, and New Labour over here, is that the corporatist system they are partly responsible for creating, and their own privileged position as members of the upper classes, are under threat from a resurgence of working class power and discontent from the Left. And despite the growing presence of women in the unions, Blair and New Labour despised them. It was Blair, remember, who threatened to cut their ties to the party, and was responsible for passing further legislation on top of the Tories to limit strikes, and deprive working people of further employment rights.

When Blairite MPs like Phillips make their accusations of sexism at Corbyn and his followers, they are expressing the fears of the middle classes at losing their privileged position, as members of that class, and its control over the economy and society. It’s made somewhat plausible to many women, because as a rule women were much less unionised than men, and the most prominent union leaders have tended to be men. But it’s a distortion of history to hide their own concerns to hang on to their class power. When Phillips and female Blairites like her talk about feminism and female empowerment, they’re expressing the same point of view as Theresa May. It’s all about greater empowerment for middle and upper class women like themselves, not for the poor, Black, Asian or working class.

Vox Political: Real Wages Fall by Ten Per Cent Under Tories

July 30, 2016

Mike also published a piece last week on a report published on Wednesday by the TUC, which found that while wages had grown in real terms across the EU between 2007 and 2015, they had fallen in Britain by 10.4%. The average rise in wages across the EU was 6.7 per cent. In Poland, wages had risen by 23 per cent. In Germany wages rose by nearly 14 per cent, and in France by 10.5 per cent. The only countries across the OECD which suffered a fall in wages were Portugal, Britain and Greece.

Mike’s article has two illustrations – one is a graph showing the rise in real wages in various countries, while another is a meme showing the massive pay rises enjoyed by other, very privileged groups, in Britain. Like Bankers, whose pay has risen by 35%, directors of FTSE 100 companies, 14%, and MPs, whose pay has gone up by 11%.

Mike makes the point that New Labour must share some of the blame for this, as not only was Peter Mandelson and his chums very relaxed about people making money, they were also extremely relaxed about wages stagnating. He makes the point that the crash his the poorest the hardest, and the austerity launched by the Tories has been punishing and impoverishing the poor to bail out the bankers and the rich. He also makes the point that Owen Smith’s solutions are just cosmetic, and won’t do anything without concrete proposals for the redistribution of the extra money gained through the ‘wealth tax’ he proposes.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/real-wages-in-the-uk-have-fallen-by-more-than-10-per-cent-under-tories/

Mike’s right about New Labour being very relaxed about wages stagnating. In fact, wage restraint has been a major part of the neoliberal consensus ever since Maggie Thatcher took power in 1979. Keynsianism tolerated high inflation – and in the 1970s at times the inflation rate in Britain was truly eye-watering – as it was coupled to an expanding economy. Both Labour and the Tories attempted to keep pay rises within certain boundaries nevertheless. Thatcher’s Monetarism was much harder towards inflation. It saw this it as the major obstacle to economic growth, and so demanded that it be ruthlessly cut, even if this meant shedding jobs on a truly massive scale, accompanied by a fall in real wages, and the dismantlement of various welfare programmes. It also meant abandoning the Keynsian commitment, pursued over 40 years, to full employment.

Robin Ramsay in a piece on his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster, made the point that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism as an economic theory was so poorly regarded by his lecturers that they left it to the undergrads to work out what was wrong with it. Which shows you it was known even then to be totally rubbish and useless. He argues that it was adopted by the Tory party because it gave them a rationale for doing what they wanted to do on other grounds – destroy organised labour, dismantle the welfare state, including the Health Service, and grind the working class into poverty.

Now a number of economists are pointing out that, despite the emphasis by the Tories on wage restraint and very low inflation rates, the economy is not growing. I think Han Joon Chang is one of these in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The comparison with Greece is particularly chilling. Greece has been ruthlessly punished by the Troika with very harsh austerity policies, partly because the Greeks dared to defy the Eurozone authorities and elected Syriza, a radical anti-austerity party. Counterpunch has attacked the economic despoliation of the country by mainly German banks as a form of economic warfare. Greece was one of the countries that suffered from the effective collapse of the Eurozone. The result has been grinding mass poverty for its people. One recent programme on the country’s plight showed children picking rubbish off dumps to sale, just as they do in Developing Nations. The presenter looked on, aghast, and made the point that he had never seen this before in what was supposed to be a developed, European country.

Is this what New Labour and the Tories have in store for us? One of the books I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday was about how Britain would have a ‘third world’ economy by 2014. Clearly the book was written a little while ago, and the timing’s out, but nevertheless, the appearance of third world conditions in Britain is a real possibility. There are already 3.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands facing off poverty only because of food banks. I also remember how this was predicted on a BBC Horizon programme, entitled, ‘Icon Earth’, twenty years ago. The programme was about how the image of the Earth in space, taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, had affected global religious, political and economic perspectives. That image had stimulated people around the world to realise that everyone on Earth shared a common home. One result of this, so the programme claimed, was globalisation. It discussed the growing campaigns against migration from the developing world with an Indian anti-racism activist. She predicted that as globalisation progressed, pockets of the third world would appear in the first.

She’s right. This has happened with Greece, and it is occurring in Britain, thanks to the Tories and New Labour. But unlike Greece, we cannot blame the EU. We never joined the Eurozone, and the deterioration in wages and conditions will occur because of Brexit. The cause of this stagnation ultimately is three and half decades and more of Thatcherism.

Who Really Hijacked the Labour Party?

July 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: G.D.H. Cole’s A Century of Co-Operation

July 2, 2016

Cooperative Cole

(George Allen & Unwin Ltd. for the Co-operative Union Ltd 1944).

Many of us of a certain age still remember the Co-op before it became a regular supermarket chain. It was a store in which regular shoppers – the co-op’s members, were also it’s owners, and entitled to receive a share of the profits. This meant that you were paid a dividend. This was later issued in the form of ‘Green Shield’ stamps, which could be used to buy further goods in the stores. The co-operative movement was founded way back in the 1840s by the Rochdale Pioneers, former members of Robert Owen’s socialist movement. After this had collapsed, the Pioneers then went on to apply his socialist principles to running retail stores. The movement rapidly caught on and expanded, not least because, unlike ordinary shops, the co-ops sold pure food without the poisonous substances added elsewhere. For example, many bakers added arsenic to their bread to make it whiter, and more attractive to the purchaser. The co-ops didn’t, and so their food and goods was healthier, and thus more popular. Unlike their competitors, you could be fairly sure that what you bought from the co-op wouldn’t kill you in the name of making it appear more tasty. By 1942 there were 1,058 co-operative retail societies, with a total membership of 8,925,000 – just shy of 9 million people.

I found this book on the history of the movement in one of the charity bookshops in Bristol. It’s by the great socialist and writer, G.D.H. Cole, who was one of the leading members of Guild Socialism, a British form of syndicalism, which recommended the abolition of the state and its replacement with a system of guilds – trade unions, which would include all the workers in an industry, and which would run industry and the economy. Instead of parliament, there would be something like the TUC, which would also have administrative organs to protect the consumer.

The book’s chapters include:
I: “The Hungry ‘Forties'”,
II: Co-operation before the Pioneers
II. Rochdale.
IV. The Rochdale Pioneers Begin.
V. The Rochdale Pioneers to 1874.
VI Christian Socialists, Redemptionists, and Trade Unions
VII. Co-operation and the Law.
VIII. The Origins of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society
IX. Co-operative Growth in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
X. The Second Revolution.
XI. The ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
XII. The Women’s Guild.
XIII. Co-operators and Education.
XIV. Co-operation in Agriculture – Ireland: The Beginning of International Co-operation.
XV. Co-operation before and during the First World War.
XVI. From War to War.
XVII. Guild Socialism and the Building Guilds
XVIII. Co-operative Development between the Wars.
XIX. Co-operators in Politics.
XX. Co-operative Employment.
XXI. International Co-operation.
XXII Co-operation Today and Tomorrow
I. the Growth of Co-operation.
ii. The Development of Co-operative Trade.
iii. Large and Small Societies.
iv. Democratic Control.
v. Regional Strength and Weakness.
vi. Co-operative Education.
vii. The producers’ Societies.
viii. The Wholesales and Production.
ix. The Next Steps.

Appendix: Who Were the Pioneers?

Cole notes that some forms of what became known as co-operation existed in various trades and businesses before the Rochdale Pioneers. Some of the capital used to set up businesses in the early 19th century, came from the workers. They tended to invest in other businesses’ than their employers, so that if their wages were cut during a recession or dip in trade, the dividends they would receive from their shares would not also suffer. Although not remarked on in the book, you could say that this shows how the working class has been disinherited. In many cases, they contributed their savings and money to the development of capitalism, but despite the existence in some firms of profit-sharing schemes, they have been and are being excluded from the profits of the modern, industrial economy.

From industry, co-operation also entered politics, with the establishment of a Co-operative Party, which is now part of the Labour party. The movement spread across Europe, to Germany and as far as Russia. Lenin was greatly impressed by the value of the co-operatives as a form of socialism. According to Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s chief economist for perestroika, before 1950 47 per cent of all industries, including farms in the USSR were co-ops. Industrial democracy and co-operatives were a central plank of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unfortunately, Gorby’s attempts to revive Communism failed, and Yeltsin turned them into bog-standard capitalist companies through the voucher system. Other thinkers and politicians in other countries saw co-operation as the solution to their countries’ social and economic problems. One of these was the Bulgarian Stambolisky, the leader of a peasant’s party before the First World War. He wished to organise the peasant farms into a system of co-operation, which would modernise the country by allowing them to acquire electricity and improve production and conditions. More recently, the Mondragon co-operatives, set up in Spain by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, has become an industrial giant, involved in just about all areas of the Spanish economy.

Cole’s book understandably concentrates on the history of the co-operative movement from its emergence to the middle of the Second World War, and is an immensely detailed and thorough work of scholarship. Although not as prominent as they once were, co-operative businesses still exist in Britain. They were supported in the 1970s and ’80s by politicos like the great Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, and may once again become a major force in British society and the economy.

Vox Political on the Workers’ Rights at Risk if Britain Leaves Europe

June 22, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political put up an interesting piece today, reporting the findings of an employment silk, Michael Ford, QC, to the TUC on the employees’ rights that could be lost if Britain leaves the European Union. These include regulations on working time, the rights that can be transferred from one employer to another if an organisation is taken over or outsourced; protection for agency workers; the current levels of compensation paid to the victims of discrimination; and the rights of the workers’ representatives to be consulted in the case of major changes to a company, such as in the recent negotiations over the fate of British steel.

And these are not the only rights that are at risk. Other rights are also, and that those that remain may only be enforced by British courts if Britain decides to leave.

Mike also points out that depending on the British courts to help you in a legal battle over your rights with an employer won’t be much help, as Michael Gove has cut legal aid.

#EUref: Forty years of progress on rights at risk for workers if Britain Brexits

Let’s be clear about this: while many people are worried about immigration, it’s employment rights that are really at the heart of this move. The Conservatives have always hated Brussels primarily because of the social charter and the protection it gives European workers, not just because, or even necessarily primarily because they consider it a threat to British sovereignty, as expressed in books like ‘The Abolition of Britain’ and similar scaremongering nonsense. Dennis Skinner in his autobiography makes the point that there isn’t any real freedom of movement within the EU. This is shown by the imprisonment of the refugees and other unfortunates in the migrant camp at Calais. Those foreign workers, who come to Britain are brought in by the big companies through gang masters. This is an important point. Skinner makes no secret in his book that he would like Britain to leave the EU, but not because of UKIP, whom he aptly describes as ‘turbo-charged Tories’. Skinner makes a good point. However, at the moment the only people behind the campaign to take Britain out of the EU are extreme right-wing Tories like Boris, Gove and Priti Patel. All of them wish to strip British workers of the rights to have them labouring like their counterparts in the sweatshops of the Developing World. All for the profits of big business. Patel and her fellow Tories made that very clear in the book Britannia Unchained.

Don’t be taken in. Immigration is actually an irrelevant diversion to the real issues driving the Tory Brexit campaign. It’s what Farage and the rest of this gang want people to think it’s all about, while the real reason they’re promoting Brexit is to deprive us all, whether we’re Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, of our employment rights under European law.

Labour’s Ernest Bevin and European Union

June 6, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces pointing out that the idea of a united Europe, or a European parliament, ultimately goes back to the Quaker William Penn in the 17th and 18th century philosophers and idealists, such as Immanuel Kant. In his essay, On Perpetual Peace, Kant advocated the creation of a federal European state as a way of preventing further European wars. The great Italian patriot and revolutionary, Mazzini, also believed in a federation of European nation states, dedicated to peace.

In the 20th century, one of the great advocates for European economic union in the Labour movement was Ernest Bevin. Bevin was one of the founders, with Harry Gosling, of the TGWU and the foreign minister in Atlee’s government after the War. At the TUC Congress in 1926, Bevin urged in the name of his union that a formal resolution should be passed

That notwithstanding the political divisions of Europe, this Congress instructs the General Council to further, through the international organisations, a policy having for its object the creation of a European public opinion in favour of Europe becoming an economic unity.
(Francis Williams, Ernest Bevin: Portrait of a Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952, p. 149).

Bevin was a frequent visitor to the International Labour Office in Geneva, and helped to reform the International Transport Workers’ Federation after the War. His biographer, Francis Williams, considered that his experience of the profound economic links between workers in various countries right across Europe helped shape his internationalism and support for European economic union. Williams writes of his 1927 speech in favour of economic union for Europe

“Anyone who has had to follow the transport trades of the world”, he said, “realizes that while you may satisfy political ambitions by the establishment of boundaries the economic development of the world is often in total conflict with national aspirations. I recognise and my union recognises that national aspirations and national boundaries are bound to be a great handicap to us … but we also believe that if we are to develop nationally we have got to show our people unionism in terms of raw materials, in terms of harvests, cycles of trade and exchange…”

“We have,” he continued, “debated all this week as if Britain had no industrial problem to solve. But Britain has got a problem and it is no use attacking unemployment unless we try at least to make a contribution towards its solution and one of the complications throughout Europe has been the creation of a greater number of national boundaries as a result of the Versailles Treaty… The Labour Movement should carry on a great educational work in promoting the development of all forms of national culture even to the extent of political divisions and yet at the same time to inculcate the spirit of a United States of Europe on an economic basis… Cast your eye over Europe,” he went on, “with its millions of underfed, with its millions of people with a wretchedly low standard of living. We can have mass production, we can have intensified production, but we must, in order to absorb that mass production direct consuming power ot the millions of people in Europe whose standard of living is not far removed from the animal…. When we meet our international friends (let us) talk of the real problems of Europe in terms of materials, in terms of goods, in terms of the productive capacity of the peasantry, in terms of exchange, and drive along the line of endeavouring to create a feeling of interdependence between the production of the peasantry from the land of the craftsmanship of the workshop…”

Although in 1927 Bevin no doubt underestimated the political difficulties in the way of European Economic Union and was somewhat too facile in his belief in a United States of Europe this speech is interesting not only for its evidence of the widening of his own view of the duty of the trade unions but because the premises on which it was based remained all his life fundamental to his view of international affairs. They later deeply influenced his policy as Foreign Secretary, not least in his response some twenty years later to Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech on European economic dislocation the full significance of which, as the Annual Register at the time commented, “was not realised on either side of the Atlantic” until Bevin “grasped with both hands” the opportunity it offered of American aid in initiating European co-operation and thus brought into being the Marshall Plan.

In 1927 he was thinking aloud, dreaming a little as he said because “to be a dreamer is sometimes necessary”, and his thoughts brought many angry responses from other delegates to the Congress. Some of them opposed him because they considered that it was the T.U.C.’s business to deal with practical matters and not waste its time on large visions of this kind, others because the idea of European union seemed to them to run counter to the old socialist ideal of an all-embracing international. To this latter argument Bevin replied belligerently that he was not less an internationalist because he was also a realist. It was fine to talk about a world-wide international. but that was far away. meanwhile trade barriers to Europe were keeping living standards low and big employers were developing cartels to safeguard their own interests at the expense of the community. His resolution was carried in the end by 2,258,000 votes to 1,464,000 although both the miners and the railwaymen opposed him. (pp. 151-2).

Williams also says of his idea for a united Europe that

In the past he had been preoccupied with the need to develop trade union power in order to establish a counter-weight to the organised power of employers. Now he saw the solution to many of the world’s economic problems in somewhat similar terms, preaching the need for Britain to develop, either through participation in an economic United States of Europe “spreading from the borders of Russia right to the borders of France”, or in a Commonwealth and European bloc or both, a counter-weight to the economic power of the United States and the potential economic power of Russia. (p. 153).

This was one of the reasons the EEC, the EU’s precursor was founded – so that through an economic union European trade and industry could compete with the US and Soviet blocs. Moreover, the Social Charter in the EU safeguards some basic workers’ rights, rights that are severely threatened by the Brexit campaign.