Posts Tagged ‘Winter of Discontent’

RT: McDonnell States Labour Will Take Back Rail, Water, Energy and Royal Mail

September 25, 2017

I’m giving this clip from RT’s coverage of the Labour party conference a massive thumbs-up. It’s a short clip of McDonnell stating that they intend to back rail, water, energy and the Royal Mail to give them to the people, who actually use and work in them. They aim to save the country and industry from the Tories’ mixture of belligerence and incompetence. And their commitment to a fairer society does not end at Dover. Just as they want a Britain for the many, and not the few, so they want a Europe for the many and not the few. This means, while respecting the results of the Brexit referendum, they will be working with our European partners during the transition period. And they will stop the Tories’ brutal treatment of immigrants.

Now we’re going to hear the screams and angry wailing from the neoliberals – the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Blairites. They’ll all start ranting now about how this is just discredited ‘Trotskyism’, that will wreck the wonderful, strong economy nearly four decades of Thatcherism has created. And, of course, the Tories, whose cabinet is stuffed with toffs and millionaires, will immediately start claiming that it will make working people poorer.

It’s none of these things. It’s good, solid, traditional Labour policy. The type of policies that gave this country decades of economic growth and higher standards for working people after the war. This was a Labour party that ensured that there was a real welfare state to look after the poor, that unions did represent the working man and woman against exploitation by their employer, and that an increasing number of young people could go on to uni without worrying about acquiring tens of thousands of pounds of debt at the end of it.

And if Labour does, as I fervently hope, renationalize those industries, I would very much like a form of workers’ control implemented in them. One reason why the Tories were able to privatize these industries was because, when Labour nationalized them after the Second World War, the party was too timid in the form nationalization took. The state took over the ownership of these industries, but otherwise left the existing management structures intact. This disappointed many trade unionists and socialists, who hoped that nationalization would mean that the people, who actually worked in these industries would also play a part in their management.

I’ve no doubt that if such plans were drawn up, all you’d hear from the Tories and the other parties would be yells about surrendering to the union barons, along with Thatcherite ravings about the Winter of Discontent and all the other trite bilge. But as May herself promised that she would put workers in the boardroom – a policy, which she had absolutely no intention of honouring – the Tories can’t complain without being hypocritical.

As for the power of the trade unions, as Russell Brand points out in his piece attacking Rees-Mogg, most of the people now relying on food banks are the working poor, whose wages aren’t enough to stave off starvation. And one of the reasons why this is so is that the Tories and then the Blairites have done everything they can to break and destroy the unions, so that the owners of industry can pay the workers a pittance and sack them at will.

And the Tories are treating immigrants brutally. We’ve send them send the vans around and put up posters telling immigrants to hand themselves in. And there have been outbreak of violence at the detention centres for asylum seekers again and again because of racist violence and bullying by the outsourcing companies running, like Serco, or G4S or whoever. And this is quite apart from the sheer racist venom spouted by the Tory press – the Heil, Scum, Express and so on.

This is a fine speech with excellent policies. Policies that hopefully put an end to four decades of Thatcherite misery, poverty and exploitation.

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Book Attacking the Myth of Labour’s Defeat in the Winter of Discontent

September 14, 2016

Spokesman Books, the publishing arm of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, have also produced an edition of What Went Wrong, edited by Ken Coates. This book critically examines and refutes as grossly oversimplistic the myth that the Labour party lost the 1979 election because of trade union militancy during the notorious ‘Winter of Discontent’.

The book, with an accompanying blurb, is listed on their webpage at http://www.spokesmanbooks.com/acatalog/Michael_Barratt_Brown.html

I might have to get this one at some point, because, as the blurb itself says, it is very much ‘conventional wisdom’ that James Callaghan’s government fell because of the militant strike action by the trade unions. It’s brought up repeatedly by the Tories and the right-wing press whenever the unions are discussed or defended, along with comments and verbiage about not going back to the bad old days of the 1970s when Britain was held hostage by the union barons. And so forth.

Much of today’s problems can be traced back to the complete reverse. Thatcher broke the unions, and the result has been decades of poor wages at or below the rate of inflation, poor working conditions, and the creation of the ‘flexible labour market’, set up to make it easier for firms to sack people. Blair’s New Labour was as complicit in all this as the Tories. It was Tony Blair, who threatened to cut the party’s ties with the unions if they blocked his voting reforms. The result is 4.7 million people in Britain in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands only surviving through food banks.

Advocates of trade unions have pointed out that in companies where there are unions, not only do the workers enjoy higher wages and better conditions, the companies themselves are better run. Which is also an argument for worker’s control. It’s also an argument you are definitely not going to hear from the Conservatives or Smudger and his Blairite friends.

While I don’t want the country to suffer from frequent strikes, as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, we definitely do need more union power, not less.

Corbyn Will Re-Introduce Collective Bargaining and End Zero-Hours Contracts

July 31, 2016

This looks like a piece of very good news. According to Mike, Jeremy Corbyn plans to repeal the laws passed by Blair’s government in 1999 limiting workers’ rights to have a recognised trade union, and end zero-hours contracts.

Corbyn wrote a piece in the Observer stating that he felt the changes were necessary due to the scandals over Sports Direct, Philip Green and BHS, and the Byron Hamburger chain to help immigration officials arrest 35 illegal immigrants, who were working for them.

At the moment, current legislation stipulates that a union wishing to be recognised at a workplace must show that 10 per cent of employees are members, and 50% want them to lead in pay bargaining. If that isn’t the case, then a secret ballot must be held, at which at least 40% of those able to vote do so, and the majority vote in favour of union recognition.

Corbyn, however, wants to introduce a French-style system, in which firms with over 250 members would have to recognise a specific trade union, and bargain with them over pay. He states

“Even Theresa May understands she has to pay lip service to change in the workplace and the boardroom …,” writes Corbyn.

“But the best way to guarantee fair pay is through strengthening unions’ ability to bargain collectively – giving employees the right to organise through a union and negotiate their pay, terms and conditions at work,” he writes.

“That’s why it should be mandatory for all large employers, with over 250 staff, to bargain collectively with recognised trade unions.”

Corbyn also states that he wants all workers to be given specified hours, that are written into their contracts. If an employer wants them to work beyond these hours, they are to specify the length of time and give them a reason. They will also have to give workers additional compensation, similar to an on-call payment, for being willing to work beyond their usual contracted hours, whether the workers in fact do so or not.

Mike is unsure about the wisdom of the reforms on union recognition, and would like comments on this matter from experts on trade union matters and employment law. However, he welcomes the proposal to end zero-hours contracts.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/corbyn-pledges-to-scrap-blair-union-laws-in-favour-of-collective-bargaining-and-an-end-to-zero-hours-contracts/

The decision to end zero-hours contracts is an excellent policy. Guy Standing devotes several pages in his book, A Precariat Charter, to attacking them. They are widely recognised as a highly exploitative and pernicious system of employment for those trapped in them.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack make clear that the assault on collective bargaining and the trade unions was a deliberate policy of Maggie Thatcher, and has resulted in the contraction of wages, high unemployment, and the impoverishment of the working class in their book, Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty(London: OneWorld 2015). They write

Deteriorating opportunities are also the direct product of an about-turn in the country’s political economy. At the end of the 1970s, fighting the rising rate of inflation became the number-one economic goal, displacing the former priority given to maintaining full employment. The instruments used – tight monetary and fiscal policies and a strong pound – accelerated long-term de-industrialisation, while triggering mass unemployment. The critical decision in the 1980s to adopt a more aggressive, market-oriented model of capitalism led to the sweeping away of regulations, the favouring of finance over manufacturing, the outsourcing of public sector jobs, relentless pressure on companies to cut labour costs and, critically, an assault on labour’s bargaining power.

Cabinet papers for 1983 reveal that Mrs Thatcher admonished Norman Tebbit for being too timid on trade union reform, telling him we ‘should neglect no opportunity to erode union membership’. In Britain the proportion of the workforce covered by collective bargaining has fallen from around eighty percent in 1979 to below twenty-five percent today (fifteen percent in the case of private sector workers). This is one of the lowest levels of coverage among rich nations, adding to the heavily skewed and economically unhealthy concentration of corporate power. The UK stands at twenty-first place out of twenty-seven countries in the European Union in terms of workplace representation, though parts of the European continent are also seeing more recent falls in the level of coverage, though from a much higher base.

Britain’s much vaunted ‘flexible labour market’, engineered during the 1980s to give business greater freedom to hire and fire, was necessary, it was claimed, to enable domestic firms to compete in an increasingly globalised economy. Such freedom for employers has continued to be championed by subsequent governments. Yet, just as over-restrictive labour laws can be bad news for dynamism, so can under-restrictive laws.

Britain’s low-wage, high-unemployment economy is as much the product of these internal, political forces as of external, economic ones. Indeed, it was later admitted by one of Mrs Thatcher’s top economic advisers that one of the government’s central aims was the taming of labour. ‘The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows … there may have been people making the actual policy decisions … who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment.’ This was how Sir Alan Budd, chief economic adviser at the Treasury in the 1980s, summed up – in 1992 – the multilayered assault on inflation and the unions. He continued: ‘And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…what was engineered there, in Marxist terms, was a crisis of capitalism which created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.’ (pp.101-3, emphasis mine).

They further write on page 242

Perhaps the most effective, and radical, measure for boosting the total wage pool at the bottom would be a rebalancing of bargaining power in favour of the workforce. Another would be a more concerted attempt to reduce the significant pay gap between men and women by raising women’s wages. Both measures would raise the share of national income going in pay and would be critical elements of an effective strategy for cutting poverty levels among the workforce.

Far from being a strength, the sustained decline in workforce bargaining power in the UK is an economic and democratic weakness. Because of the ‘wage premium’ associated with collective bargaining, this erosion of labour’s bargaining power has played a big role in wage contraction. Evidence across sixteen rich countries has shown that the higher the level of trade union membership, the lower the degree of inequality. Further, it is likely that the erosion may have encouraged British employers to move down a low-pay and productivity road. By being able to minimise pay and rely on casualised labour, British employers – unlike say their German counterparts – have had few incentives to improve skills and introduce more productive processes.

Phased in over time, such a policy mix – a boost to the minimum wage, a reduction
in the numbers on less than the living wage, wider collective bargaining coverage and lower unemployment – would put the thirty-year long trend of a shrinking wage share into reverse, and make an important contribution to reducing poverty among the low-paid, while taking some of the strain off the benefit system.

Corbyn’s decision to expand and strengthen collective bargaining therefore appears from this to be an excellent measure. It will also doubtless be attacked by the Confederation of British Industry and the right-wing press and Blairites with just about every ounce of abuse they can muster. We’ll hear once more about how this will threaten British businesses with bankruptcy, and how this will lead us all back to the strike-torn 1970s, the Winter of Discontent, and all the old Thatcherite rubbish. The reality is that Britain was no more strike-prone in the 1970s than many other countries, and much less so than America. And the Winter of Discontent was, in the views of at least one historian I’ve read, the response to the system of wage restraint buckling under the weight of political pressure it was not designed to deal with, and which the unions should not have been expected to shoulder.

Of course, the real reason for the rage at the reinstatement of collective bargaining and the ending of zero-hour contracts will be that it attacks the nearly forty years of exploitative Tory employment policies that Maggie introduced. These employment practices have caused real misery, just as Thatcher and the economists she followed, von Hayek and Milton Friedman, intended them to. They should end now.

Vox Political: The Canary on the Real Reason the Political Class Hates Jeremy Corbyn

July 4, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a very interesting piece from Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary. Mendoza believes that the real reason the political class hates and fears Corbyn is partly explained as the result of the Blairite’s attempts to isolate the trade unions and consolidate the dominance of the right within the Labour party. The Blairites adopted a new leadership election process, in the hope that this would bring into the party new members, who were to the right of the trade unions. Instead, it brought in people who were well to the left. This panicked Harriet Harman and self-styled media pundits and commentators like Polly Toynbee, who despise genuine Social Democrats. As a result, they tried to purge these new members as infiltrators. The result of all this is that the grassroots party is going to have a real hand in formulating party policy, and not just the Front Bench. It will also mean that Labour will start again connecting with workers, the unions and disenfranchised groups to start campaigns that could tear the Tories apart.

She states further that

The permanent political class is facing the most real and present threat to their power since 1979. They are going to throw every weapon in their armoury at ensuring that doesn’t happen. But none of those weapons is more powerful than a tight-knit, grass roots movement with its eye on shared vision of an inspiring future. They don’t fear Corbyn because he might be unelectable, they fear him because he, and the movement he represents, might be unstoppable.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/03/the-real-reason-the-permanent-political-class-is-trying-to-topple-jeremy-corbyn/ and follow the links to the original article.

This very much sounds as if its right. Lobster in their review of one of the biographies of Bliar that came out a few years ago stated that he had the public schoolboy’s hatred of the unions. Absolutely. One of the first things the smarmy warmonger threatened to do was cut the parties ties with the unions. As the Labour party was partly founded by the trade unions to protect their right to strike after the Taff Vale judgement, and to ensure that working people were represented in parliament, this move would have been an attack on the very core and raison d’etre of the Labour party. It’s also a major part of the Blairites’ adoption of the anti-labour attitudes of the Conservatives. The Tories, as representatives of the ruling classes, despise and fear the trade unions. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, notes that Thatcher hated the working class, whom she saw as treacherous and untrustworthy. Much Conservative rhetoric consists of holding the trade unions to account for the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979, blaming them for causing economic chaos from which only Thatcher and her union-busting could deliver Britain. It’s largely rubbish. People were alienated from the unions because of some of the strikes, but several historians have also pointed out that Britain in the 1970s wasn’t any more prone to strikes than many other nations, and that many of those, which broke out were entirely justified. Nevertheless, it’s a rhetoric drum that the Tories insist on beating.

At the same time, the Blairites and the political do not like any political activity by the masses that they cannot stage manage and control. New Labour was notorious for this, using public relations and spin to try and stage popular demonstrations of loyalty and support for Blair. They’ve now resorted to the same tricks to smear Corbyn and his left-wing supporters. See the heckling of Corbyn by Tom Mauchline, not a Labour supporter but a fully paid PR goon from Portland Communications, the PR company owned by Jack Straw’s son. And then there’s the ‘hateful’ T-shirt, urging the eradication of Blairites, which was actually dreamed up by Anna Philips, another Blairite, and another PR goon.

Blairite New Labour, and his successor, Progress, is profoundly fake, and despises conviction politics. They stand for the privileges and profits of the corporate big wigs, who give them donations. Just as their pet journos on the Left, and, it goes without saying, the cheerleaders for the Tories and big business on the Right, like Andrew Neil, Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg.

And so the campaign to marginalise and belittle Corbyn and his supporters with vilification, lies and distortion similar to Goebbels and the propagandists of the USSR.

1916 Whitley Committee on Involving Unions in Industrial Management

May 21, 2016

Introduction Unions Pic

Hooberman in ‘An Introduction to British Trade Unions’ also discusses the 1916 Commission on the Relations between Employers and Employed, chaired by J.H. Whitley, which recommended that a system of industrial councils be set up, which brought representatives of management together with those of the employees, and that their should also be similar committees set up in the individual workplaces, as well as a special court to arbitrate labour disputes. Justifying these joint industrial councils, the Commission’s report stated:

… a permanent improvement in the relations between employers and employed must be founded upon something other than a cash basis. What is wanted is that the work people should have a greater opportunity to participating in the discussion about and adjustment of those parts of industry by which they are most affected… We venture to hope that representative men in each industry, with pride in their calling and care for its place as a contributor to the national well-being, will come together in the manner here suggested, and apply themselves to promoting industrial harmony and efficiency and removing the obstacles that have hitherto stood in the way. (P. 63).

In fact, with the exception of the civil service, these proposals did not long outlive the First World War. The unions for their part resented the limitations they placed on collective bargaining. There were attempts to revive the system in 1970s with the NEDCs, but these also failed through the failure of the unions to abide by the demands for pay restraint. This was a major factor in the Winter of Discontent, and the rise of Thatcher, although some historians have said that the blame here does not lie with the unions, who were being asked to fulfil a function which was not theirs, and which was too much of them.

The Tories have since then done their best to curb union membership and the power of the trade unions. Nevertheless, the arguments for workers participation in management is a good one.

Jeremy Hunt’s Smirk, the Junior Doctors’ Strike and the Privatisation of the NHS

April 28, 2016

A few days ago Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece about how the veteran Labour MP, Dennis Skinner, had told Jeremy Hunt to take the smirk off his face in parliament. I am not surprised Hunt is smirking, as I think he and his masters – David Cameron and George Osborne, really want the junior doctors to go on strike, no matter what they say to the contrary. And it’s disgusting that they should.

It’s all about appearing strong and combative, you see. Maggie gained much of her support by being combative and showing she was ruthlessly ready to crush all opposition. During one industrial dispute – I think it may well have been with the teachers – she privately remarked that there was some leeway to reach an agreement with the teachers. But she didn’t want to take that route, because it would make her look weak and conciliatory. And so she went about, as Roy Hattersley so memorably remarked, ‘like a bargain-basement Boadicea’. It was important for her image, and those of her followers like Norman Tebbitt, to be seen as towering political colossi standing up to the bloated power of the union bully-boys. That’s how they presented themselves during the Winter of Discontent, the Miners’ Strike, and all the other trade disputes, regardless of whether they were right or wrong.

And my guess is that’s what Hunt, Cameron and Osbo hope they can do now. Provoke an industrial dispute, and then pretend that they’re protecting the ordinary, suffering people of Britain from stroppy, overpaid and lazy workers. That’s they way they’ll present it. You only have to look at every report of every strike in the pages of the Scum, the Express, the Torygraph, and the Heil.

And you can see how the Tories hope to sell their privatisation of the NHS. They’ll start with articles in the Scum and the other parts of the Tory press, telling everyone that they’re bring the discipline of private investment, and its greater resources, to the ‘strike-hit’, financially struggling Health Service. Private investment, they will tell us, will mean greater investment and help ease the tax-burden on poor, hard-working people. Which as we’ve seen, really means all the rich multi-millionaire fat cats bankrolling the Tory party, who are currently soiling themselves at the prospect of getting their mitts round the NHS.

And they there’ll be all the advertising by the NHS’ new, private masters. They’ll put adverts on ITV, Channel 4, 5 and the satellite and cable channels, telling everyone how they’ve been providing healthcare for ‘x’ number of years, their hospitals are really wonderful, how you can be seen on the same day. They’ll also, no doubt, start selling discount deals for those ready to pay that little bit more on their private health insurance policy. They might even try to go the populist route by trying to tell the public that they can now have their own little piece of this British institution, if they get their shares in now. Though as they’re doing it by the back door, because of how unpopular it’s going to be, I actually doubt they’ll pursue this approach.

This is how they want to do it, and it’s sickening.

As we’ve seen from all the other privatisations, the results are going to be worse service, longer waiting times, closures, plus a massive increase in disparity in health across the UK. It’s already the case that you can live years longer if you’re a middle class person living in a middle class area. Well, if you’re poor after the privatisation of the health service, and live in a poor area, your healthcare will be correspondingly poor.

Just like it was before the foundation of the NHS.

But Jeremy Hunt can smirk. He and many of the other Tories have investments and connections in private healthcare companies. He’ll make a tidy pack out of the fees they’ll charge for our healthcare.

Boot out Hunt, Cameron and Osborne, and support the junior doctors. Before Hunt kills us. He’s doing his best to make us all heartily sick already.

A Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management: Part Three

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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