Posts Tagged ‘Workforce’

George Galloway: Torygraph Publishes Piece Speculating on Coup to Overthrow Corbyn

May 12, 2018

This is an excerpt from George Galloway’s Talk Radio Show, which I found on YouTube. He begins with talking about a conversation he had with James Whale, a fellow presenter, about the dangerous situation in the Middle East, where Israel is now facing an Arab, Russian and Iranian enemy. He pours scorn, however, on the juvenile scribblers, as Galloway sees it, who claimed that the missiles shot at the Golan Heights had entered Israel. Galloway states that the Golan Heights were illegally seized by Israel from Syria, and so are not part of Israel, no matter what the hacks say.

He then goes on to talk about Theresa May’s volte face, which has meant that victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will now be allowed onto the board investigating it. After that, he moves on to talking about how the Brexit negotiations are an appalling mess, and the whole affair something which all of us will have difficulty getting out of.

But the main subject of his ire is a piece published by Paul Carter in the Torygraph the day before, which may be 10th May 2018. The Torygraph had speculated on the possibility of a military coup against Corbyn. Galloway describes the article as chilling, and states that its author, Paul Carter, has no footprint in social media. The article claims that this coup would occur if the labour leader was elected to power and proceeded to enact to enact three particular policies. These were conducting a referendum to abolish the monarchy, taking us out of NATO, and taking us out of the western foreign policy consensus. Galloway himself wishes Corbyn would do all these, but the Labour leader will certainly not do any of them. The proximate cause of the Torygraph article is that it is 50 years since Mountbatten and the editor of the Mirror met to plan a coup against the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson. Galloway states that Wilson was a political giant, who dominated the sixties and much of the seventies. He was right-wing Labour, a social democrat. But he had his house burgled and his mail intercepted because it was suspected that he was a Russian secret agent. If the coup had gone ahead, the country would probably be led by Mountbatten from the Despatch Box, probably from the House of Lords, unless he resigned and fought a bye-election. Not that such constitutional niceties would bother people, who had just overthrown their democratically elected leader.

He also makes the point that there were plans to intern 4,000 other leftists, including journalists, on the Shetland Islands. Galloway himself was too young at the time, but if they did launch a coup against Corbyn, this would be the last you’d hear of him for a long time, unless he managed to get onto Radio Free Shetland. He notes one expert, who has said that it would be much harder to launch a coup now that people have mobile phones and social media. It was easier fifty years ago when it was the editors of the newspapers to overthrow the government. But Corbyn would be wise to keep his mobile phone handy. If they did launch a coup, then millions would pour onto the streets to defended their elected leader? Or would they? Galloway leaves this as a matter of discussion for later in the programme. He says that eventually the plans for the coup were abandoned, because the conspirators thought better, including the government’s scientific advisor, Solly Zuckerman. But Galloway thinks this is false, and that they simply got cold feet.

Galloway then closes the segment with a piece about how popular the woman presenting the weather reports is becoming.

This is worrying, as it looks like a combination of smear piece and speculation by the Torygraph. Corbyn hasn’t any intention of trying to abolish the monarchy, taking us out of NATO or acting against the current foreign policy consensus, so it’s a smear to suggest that he might. The absence of any social media footprint for Paul Carter suggests that this is a pseudonym. And this in turn invites speculation that it’s someone from MI5 or another branch of the security services.

This wouldn’t be the first time MI5’s been acting against the government, if this is the case. The agency was convinced Wilson really was a KGB spy, and Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, have suggested that it was behind the smears circulating then about the Labour leader.

As for the coup they’re discussing, the plotting occurred later than the article claims. Mountbatten and the editor of the Mirror were making their plans in the mid-70s. And the Times was also looking forward to Wilson being toppled, though replaced by a civilian government of trusted members of the Labour party, like Shirley Williams, as well the Tories. These plots are discussed in Francis Wheen’s book, Strange Days Indeed: Paranoia in the 1970s, and by Ken Livinstone in his book Livingstone’s Labour. The date’s out, but otherwise everything that Galloway’s said about the proposed coup is correct. One of the reasons it failed is because one of the plotters approached Sandhurst, to ask if the old colonels there would help. They said they wouldn’t, and sent him away. Hurrah for Sandhurst!

Galloway says at the beginning of his discussion of the article that no-one else was talking about it. Which suggests that this is purely speculation and wishful thinking by the Weirdo Barclay Brothers and the paper’s managing director, Murdoch McLellan, and whoever is now the editor of this wretched rag. The paper’s been running articles attacking Corbyn, claiming that he’s an anti-Semite and so on, along with the Daily Mail. But this shows more than a hint of real desperation. For all the Tory and media talk about ‘peak Corbyn’, it seems they really afraid he’ll win the election. In which case, they want the troops to overthrow him. Not because they’re afraid he’ll do all the things they claim he will, but because his very mild socialist programme will cause the end of the Thatcherite consensus. The corporate rich could no longer look forward to a privatised NHS and railways, and parts of the electricity grid would also be renationalised, would which would also upset corporate profits. Not to mention that they could no longer rely on having a cowed, cheap workforce of the desperate on poverty wages, on zero hours contracts and kept in line by the threat of benefit sanctions and starvation.

This is all too much for the Torygraph and its scribblers. So they’ve started fantasising about the possibility of a coup. Just like the British stock exchange cheered the Fascists when they revolted against the Republican government at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

The Torygraph has just about gone full Fascist with this article. And its publication is more than a bit hypocritical for the Tories. Not after they went berserk and accused Hilary Mantel of encouraging terrorism when she published her short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. But this shows just how far Corbyn has rattled the Tories, and shown how some of them, at least as for the Torygraph itself, have started hankering after a coup to stop him.

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Rudd Resigns, Replaced by Safid Javid, and Deportations Continue

May 1, 2018

Okay, late Sunday night came the news that Rudd had finally done the decent thing and fallen on her sword. After saying that she wouldn’t resign, and would continue to stay in office to protect her mistress, Theresa May, she finally bowed to public pressure and handed in her notice. She has now been replaced at the Home Office by Safid Javid, who looks like the Hood from the Thunderbirds.

Mike and the twitter users he follows have had fun with the Hood, er, I mean, Javid. He was photographed standing with his legs wide apart, in a posture which I’m sure he thought at the time made him look like a powerful physical presence. Instead it made him look ridiculous, and Mike and the others have posted it next to photoshopped images of Javid as a male gymnast or yoga expert doing the sideways split, and Blackadder and the Prince Regent also standing with their legs apart in a silly posture from Blackadder III. They’ve also commented that it’s obvious the Tories chose him, thinking that the selection of BAME person to take over Rudd’s post would reassure Black and ethnic minorities that the Tories weren’t the nasty, racist party. The deportations of the Windrush children was just all a mistake, which the party now terrible regrets. Javid himself has appeared in the press making noises about how he will change all this. There’s been a clip of him on the news stating that he doesn’t like the term ‘hostile environment’. I also caught a snippet from the news on Sunday that he had appeared in the Sunday Torygraph stating that he also could have been deported, as his parents came here in 1973. This is presumably intended to reassure BAME and other voters likely to be put off by the deportations that, hey, he’s like them – he could have been a victim. Look, he shares their interests in changing this.

Except he doesn’t. And if the Tories expect public rage to subside now, they’re sorely mistaken.

First of all there were a few choice replies on Twitter when Rudd’s brother and cabinet colleagues tweeted their condolences about Rudd’s departure from government. They claimed that she was a nice, compassionate woman. The peeps on Twitter made it very clear that they didn’t think so. Rudd had presided over a system that deported British citizens purely because they were the children of immigrants. Others have lost their livelihoods, welfare benefits and been denied medical help, including for cancer treatment.

As for Javid, there was absolutely no chance of him being deported. Those targeted were the poor and ordinary. In other words, the people the Tories usually bully, in order to give more power and money to the rich, create a compliant workforce, and, in the case of ethnic minorities, satisfy the rabid racists in their own ranks. Javid is the son of a Pakistani bus conductor, but he’s also a front bench politicians, who also used to be a highly placed executive at Deutsche Bank. He is therefore exactly the type of person, who wouldn’t be deported.

As for his claims to be doing something to redress this scandal, he hasn’t done anything so far and I very much doubt he ever will. Javid consistently votes for the government, including the 2014 legislation that prepared for the deportations in the first place. And Mike has pointed out that one of the meanings of the term ‘compliant’ is ‘ready to agree with or obey’, including ‘excessive force’. This reveals the Tories’ authoritarian streak. He’s going to replace the ‘hostile environment’ with a ‘compliant’ one. Which he hopes the public will believe means the other definitions, such as following the rules or meeting standards. But in this case those, who will be forced to be compliant will not be the Home Office or the Border Agency, but their future victims. They want people to shut up and accept their maltreatment without question. After all, they removed the protections for the Windrush generation in secret, just as they started the deportations themselves.

Javid hasn’t removed the legislation and orders for the deportations. They’re still there, and there’s another flight schedule to take off this week carrying more deportees. He also lied to Diane Abbott. Abbott had made the point that the people deported were British citizens, but the law that protected them had been removed. Javid replied by telling her that it hadn’t, which is false.

So it’s simply a change of face at the Home Office, not a change of policy. And the architect of that police, Tweezer, is still in office. It was Tweezer, who created the ‘hostile environment’ policy when she was Dave Cameron’s Home Secretary and removed the legal protections for the Windrush people. The Tories claimed they were ‘redundant’. As the scandal has shown, they very much weren’t. And there’s more. Much more. Mike has reposted a number of tweets from Bob Strain detailing just about everything May did that has contributed to this gross injustice, including sending round the vans telling illegal immigrants to hand themselves in, cutting the Border Agency’s budget and personnel, as well as being ‘besieged’ by Black History Month warning that this would happen. She and the Tories also created the situation where many of the victims had to be defended by community law projects, because they had engineered it so that they were denied legal aid. Oh yes, and in 2016 she gave a speech that was reported to the authorities for racism.

Her decision to put Javid in charge of the Home Office is also something of a desperate reversal on her part. She previously had demoted him, which suggests that she is racist.

More recently today, Mike put up a piece noting that 32 per cent of the British people believe that May is responsible. This is opposed to 4 per cent, who thought that Rudd alone was responsible.

And they’re right. Rudd was partly responsible, as recognised by 25 per cent of voters. But May is the ultimate person responsible. She therefore should resign or be removed. The deportations should be stopped. Immediately. If Javid doesn’t stop them, then he too should be forced to resign.

Times Accuses RT of Exploiting Grenfell Fire

December 13, 2017

More scaremongering from the right-wing press. This time it isn’t the tabloids, but the august Times. In this clip from RT, the station reports how the Times has accused them of exploiting the Grenfell fire to foment a class war, as well as misreporting some of the facts about the £10 million cladding. This provoked an angry response from George Galloway. Galloway states that this was a fire that killed 71 poor people in the richest borough in Britain. They died because the cladding used to coat the building also used arsenic, so that if people didn’t burn in the fire, they were poisoned. Galloway himself lives and works in the borough, and is a governor of one of the schools. Every day he sees the results of the fire, and indeed, smells it. He rightly describes it as ‘beyond offensive’ and ‘obscene’ to claim that people are angry about it because of Vladimir Putin.

He’s absolutely right. You only have to read Mike’s comments about the fire to realise that people were talking about it, and expressing their anger without reference to RT. Vladimir Putin has nothing to do with the anger people feel about the incident, and the way the Tories are constantly lying and fiddling around with the inquiry to avoid incriminating themselves and their fellows on the council.

But the British media and Conservative establishment is just following what Killary and the Americans are doing, and trying to blame RT and alternative media generally for their own failures. RT is a threat because an increasing audience is turning away from the Conservative press and media, and tuning into it, both here and in America. This is because the network is covering the issues that the mainstream media doesn’t like to show too much – the poverty, homelessness, debts and the crisis in healthcare caused by decades of Thatcherism/Reaganism, privatisation and welfare cuts. I’m not denying that the mainstream media don’t cover these, but they don’t do so in as much detail, nor tackle these issues from a left-wing perspective. And they really, really don’t want to tackle the unjust, illegal imperialist wars we’re fighting in the Middle East.

Once upon a time, when it was edited by Harold Evans in the ’70s, the Times was a genuinely respected newspaper. Then it was bought up, against the advice of people who knew better, by Murdoch. And it’s been a right-wing propaganda rag ever since. A friend of mine buys it, and whenever I’ve looked inside there’s always been at least one piece written by an entitled, upper-middle class windbag rubbishing Corbyn. ‘Cause he represents a real threat to Murdoch and the rest of the corporate elite causing mass poverty so they can enjoy more tax cuts and power over their workforce. The Times readership has fallen dramatically, to the point where, if it was a normal paper, it would have been wound up. But as it’s Britain’s ‘paper of record’, Murdoch keeps it going as it allows him a place at the table with Britain’s great and good in government.

And so it, and the rest of the press and mainstream media, feel threatened by RT and other alternative news outlets. Thus they try to combat them by spreading lies and smears about evil, subversive Russian influence. It’s not Russia that’s tearing this country apart, as Chunky Mark observed in his video on the Heil attacking social media. It’s them. And if you want a deeper view of what’s really going on in Britain, then you’re better off watching some of the material on RT than reading the Times, Torygraph or other right-wing news sheets, or watching the Beeb with its very blatant, pro-Tory bias.

As for ‘class war’, the best quote about that comes from Stanley Baldwin during the General Strike: it’s class war, and we started it. But you ain’t going to hear such a frank admission from this government or its shills in the media.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

Vox Political on the Basic Income Guarantee

May 21, 2016

Also on Thursday Mike put up another fascinating piece about the growing support for the Basic Income Guarantee. A non-party thinktank, Reform Scotland, has recommended replacing the current system of in-work benefits with a guaranteed basic income, in other words, a citizen wage. The report Mike quotes states that it would combat wage-slavery, by releasing employees from having to work for their living. Instead,

employers would find it difficult to exploit workers, and would be pushed to offer decent wages, good terms and employment conditions in order to attract workers. People would have greater freedom to pursue meaningful, suitable and appropriate employment rather than having to take any job to avoid poverty and destitution.

De-commodifying labor by decoupling work from income liberates people from the “tyranny of wage slavery” and leaves a space for innovation, creativitity and rebalances power relationships between wealthy, profit-motivated employers and employees.”

Mike in his comment on the piece states that if this was carried through, it could destroy 40 years of Tory employment policies. These are, after all, about getting the maximum amount of work from a cowed and impoverished workforce.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/19/the-basic-income-guarantee-and-why-it-would-destroy-40-years-of-conservative-policy/

Something like it has already been done in a town in Canada. Even Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska did something very similar. She used the profits from the rights the oil industry had to pay to the Alaskan state to give a portion of them to Alaskan voters.

In fact, this is merely a modern form of a very, very old idea. The Utopian quasi-Socialist, Thomas Spence, in the early 19th century recommended breaking Britain up into a federation of autonomous parishes. These parishes would own the land around them, the rents from which would be used to give each man, woman and child a basic income. If you like, a citizen wage.

A similar idea was advocated in the 1920s by Major C.H. Douglas and his Social Credit Movement. This was before the Keynsian revolution supposedly made his ideas obsolete. Douglas noted that plenty of goods were available; it was just that the workers were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue a system of voucher so that people could purchase the items they needed.

A friend of mine with a background in economics also told me that there has been support for similar ideas for a citizen wage by the Social Democrats in Germany and elsewhere on the continent. Part of the argument here is that although relatively few people are employed in the manufacturing sector, nevertheless it is still extremely important to the economy. In order to stimulate consumption, and thus production, people should be given the means to purchase more consumer goods. And so the unemployed and working people should be given greater benefits, so they can buy the articles on which the economy depends.

You can imagine the screaming from the Tories and the Daily Heil from here, if this ever was proposed down here in England. There would be more bluster and ranting about the ‘squeezed’ middle classes, and punishing hard-working people in order to subsidize the lifestyle of welfare scroungers and chavs. Which doesn’t mean it should be done by any means. In fact, our economy and social welfare as an industrial and civilised nation may depend on it.

Vox Political on America Raising Tariffs Against Chinese Steel

May 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece from the Mirror about the US slapping a massive protection barrier of 522% on Chinese steel to stop it flooding the market and destroying their domestic steel industries. However, the unions are impatient with Brussels and the British government, which are currently dragging their heels. At the moment the EU tariff placed on Chinese manufactured goods is only 16%.

Mike comments:

Neoliberals would have you believe that any increase in the tariff on Chinese steel is protectionism that would harm the economy in the long run.

But this is nonsense.

It seems likely that China is subsidising its steel industry in order to flood the world markets with cheap product. The aim would be to cripple the profitability – and therefore the viability – of non-Chinese steelmakers, and shut them down.

This would leave China alone in the market and able to set whatever price it wanted.

Mike’s exactly right, and to be fair, the British diplomatic corps know it, and have known it for a very long time. It’s only David Cameron and his cabinet of overpaid, over-privileged numbskulls and parasites that don’t.

Years ago I used to work with a former diplomat. I can remember talking to him once about China, its emergence as an industrial power, and the lingering, bitter resentment that still exists in the Middle Kingdom about the way we conquered and ruled it with the other European powers in the 19th century. Others I have spoken to about the situation told me that they believed that China would deliberately set out to destroy this country economically. I told my colleague about this, and he agreed. They would, he said, first set about destroying the Japanese. And then they would come after us. They would do it thoroughly and very politely.

The Chinese government’s subsidization of their steel industry, and their determination to flood the global market and so close everyone else’s industries down, seems to me to confirm this amply. The conversation took place about a decade ago, if not more.

So as I said, this has been known and forecast for a very, very long time. But of course, it’s given no account by Cameron and his fellows, because they’ve grown up with the self-serving economic dogma that manufacturing industry in the West is somehow passé. Besides, it creates a tightly organised, skilled workforce than when really annoyed and well-led, can bring down Tory governments, like the miners and Ted Heath.

And professional selfishness is also involved. Cameron’s a PR man, and most of the Tories come from the financial sector. They have no interest or experience of manufacturing, and so are quite happy to let the manufacturing sector of this country be destroyed. Because no matter how many British workers are put out work, no matter how badly the overall economy is damaged, they can always get another job in another bank or investment house.

Motherboard Report on the Japanese Robot Hotel

November 25, 2015

This is another interesting video I found over on Youtube. It’s a piece by the science news programme, Motherboard, on the Henn-na – Japanese for ‘weird’ Hotel in Tokyo that’s staffed by robots. The presenter states that Japan has legions of industrial robots, and Japanese trends were believed to show what the future would be like. In the case of the hotel industry, a few decades ago this was believed to be the capsule hotels, where tired Sararimen hired what was basically a stacked space about the size of a coffin to sleep in. The presenter tries one of these out, and talks to a traditional Japanese hotelier about how he feels about the rise of hotels where everything is done by robots.

The human hotelier states that he believes that people actually want the human touch, and personal contact with other human beings. So to compete, he believes that ordinary hotels will have to concentrate on being more human, rather than like those run by the machines. The journalist then goes on to sample what a night in one of these robot hotels is like. He states that the Japanese are turning to robots in order to cut down on high labour costs.

Inside the hotel, he is greeted with the hotel reception, which consists of two robots on a desk. One is in the guise of a woman, the other is a dinosaur in a hat. To check in, he has to use a touch-screen, which he describes as like those used at checkouts. Any valuables you have is placed in a locker behind glass by a robot arm, which the journalists says could come from a state of the art factory. Your luggage is taken to your room by another robot, though this is a robot trolley, not any kind of humanoid machine. In the bedroom on the bedside drawers is another, rather diminutive robot, which responds to your voice, greets you, and asks if you want the lights on or off.

Back down stairs, there are no catering staff. All the meals come from vending machines. There is a small human staff of about three guys. When interviewed, they also talk about how these hotels are driven by the need to cut labour costs. The journalist also interviews the managers, who states that he believes these hotels will become more popular and appear around the world. He and his staff also believe that to compete, hotels staffed by humans will also have to offer a more uniquely human experience.

The presenter himself and some of the guests he interviews are, however, in the end less than enthusiastic about the experience. He states that while its exciting to begin with, it’s actually rather lonely. The group of young women he interviews actually state that it’s really rather boring.

Here’s the video:

Now the presenter makes the point that as machines take more of our jobs, businesses like these raise the question of what can be uniquely done by humans. I’d argue that hotel catering and accommodation may not be an industry that can only be done by humans, but at the moment its an industry that can only be done well by humans.

If you look at the type of robots that have been popular in SF, they’re fictional machines that have had real characters and personalities. Think of Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet, C-3PO and R2D2 in the Star Wars films and K-9 in Dr Who. The same with the sentient computers, like Zen, Orac and Slave in Blake’s 7, or the Hal 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Or even Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These machines became favourite SF characters because they were precisely that: characters. They were essentially artificial people, with human-like intelligence, personality traits and even flaws. Robbie the Robot had all the polite aloofness of a human butler. C-3PO was fussy and rather camp, but a foil for R2D2, who was cheeky and slightly wilful, in the manner of a child determined to have its own way. Orac in Blake’s 7 was arrogant and pedantic, like a rather tetchy university professor. Slave was grovelling and subservient. K-9 was a perky companion, eager to help his master, but also with his own mind and opinions. The Hal-9000 computer was proud of its model’s computing power, accuracy and reliability, stated it enjoyed human companion, even though it went on to kill the crew on the grounds that human unreliability made them a threat to the success of the mission. Finally, it felt fear, when Dave Bowman, the hero of that segment of the film, closed it down. Zen was the most impersonal of all the machines. Except for its dying moment in the last episode of the third series, ‘Terminal’, it did not refer to itself. It was basically a hemisphere in a corner of the Liberator’s flight deck, across which flowed patterns of lights. Yet these lights and the slight inflections in its voice gave the impression of a distinct personality, and again, real human-like intelligence. Peter Tuddenham, the voice actor for Orac and Zen, in an interview with Blake’s 7 magazine in the 1980s, stated that of the two, Zen was his favourite. Orac, he felt, had merely taken on the personality of its creator, Ensor, who was also tetchy, pedantic and professorial. Zen’s personality was a more natural growth of the machine’s basic nature. It could have become human-like, but had deliberately held back and remained as it was.

And back in the 1970s and ’80s, 2000 AD also gave their own very comic version of what form robot accommodation for humans would take in the Robohunter strip. This followed the adventures of Sam Slade, that’s ‘S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’, as he attempted to combat robot crime. In the first story, Slade found himself despatched to the distant planet, Verdus. This had been occupied by robots in preparation for human colonisation. The robots, however, had refused to recognise the colonists as humans on the grounds that humans would obviously be superior to them in the every way. When the human colonists turned up, the robots found that they were instead weaker, and less intelligent. They concluded that they must somehow be ‘sims’, simulated humans, sent to deceive them for some purpose they didn’t understand. As a result, humans were rounded up into concentration camps to be experimented on and culled. Slade managed to break out, find the original robot sent to colonise the planet, who duly recognised and testified that he was indeed human. This convinced some of the robots that the Sims were humans, while others remained unconvinced. A war broke out between the two sides, which was only stopped by Slade destroying every robot on Verdus. This restored peace, but left his employers furious.

All this makes the strip seem grimmer than it actually was. The strip, scripted by long-time 2000 AD writer John Wagner, and drawn by Ian Gibson, was funny and satirical with a distinct cartoonish quality. On Verdus, everything was done by robots. There was a robot parliament, occupied by deranged and moronic MPs, like the Stupid Parties, which existed solely to provide comic amusement to the planet’s true leader, Big Brain. There was a robot archbishop and chief rabbi, demanding rights for Sims as God’s creatures. The robot armies included stereotypical ‘Colonel Blimp’ generals, while members of the robot constabulary in Robopoly, a robot board game, where also corrupt and brutal, following several real police scandals of the time. There were also robot singers and TV stars, like Frankie Droid, and Valve Doonican, a pastiche of the Irish singer, Val Doonican, who had his own show on British television at the time.

In the last couple of decades, a number of computer entrepreneurs and SF writers have predicted that eventually, everything will have computers chips in and so be computer controlled. The Robohunter strip also depicted that possibility, but gave it its own, twisted slant. In the page below, Slade and his diminutive sidekick, Kidd, on the run from the robots break into an apartment. Once inside, they find that everything, from the kettle, to footwear and furniture, is a robot.

Robohunter Pic 1

What makes this interesting, and extremely funny, is that all these machines have their own personalities. They talk and argue. They discuss whether Slade and Kidd are really human, or just Sims, and then decide to put it to the vote whether they should turn them in or not.

This is absolutely unlike the real robot hotel. For all the talk about Artificial Intelligence, the machines there aren’t really sentient. They respond in a very limited way to a set of instructions. These may be verbal or keyed in. Unlike the fictional machines, there is no ‘I’, no sense of self lurking within the chips and circuit boards. And no real understanding of what they’re doing either. It’s just one set of circuits responding to a certain stimulus according to its programme or wiring. They’re moving mannequins, rather than the artificial people of SF.

So instead of the robotic maniacs of Verdus, what is instead presented is something far more like the antiseptic, alienated futures of Stanley Kubrick’s SF films. In 2001 everything is gleaming white, clean, and sterile. People speak, but don’t actually communicate or really say anything much at all. And that was deliberate. Clarke had told Kubrick that he had trouble writing dialogue for the movie. Kubrick told him not to worry. He liked it stilted, as he saw the people in this future as brittle and alienated. They had reached a high stage of technological sophistication but had little human warmth or empathy in their social interactions themselves. Critics have commented that the only real personality in the movie is that of Hal, the murderous computer.

The programme’s presented states that the increasing use of robots in Japan is driven by the need to cut labour costs. I dare say that’s part of it, but not quite what has been said elsewhere. Japan actually has a labour shortage, partly caused by a falling birth rate and strongly traditional attitudes against women in the workplace. As a result, there’s been campaigns not only to introduce robots into Japanese industry, but also to humanise them, to get the other, human members of the workforce to accept them as a fellow being, rather than just a machine.

And for all the country’s immense technological sophistication and ingenuity, it’s actually extremely reluctant to implement mechanisation itself as comprehensively as its competitors in the West have done. Way back in the 1990s I read a book on Japan written by a Times journalist. The author stated that while in the West were used to computer checkouts, if you went into a Japanese shop or the post office, the clerk there would be using old fashioned ledgers. The Japanese had worked out that if they fully automated their industry, it would put half their workers out of a job. And the actual numbers of robots in Japan may well be colossally exaggerated. Geoff Simons in his book Robots: The Question for Living Machines, states that most of the what the Japanese call robots are what in the west are viewed as machine tools. The impression I have is that the Japanese love robots, but want to introduce them as an addition to the human workers, not as a replacement.

The film shows the journalist enjoying the robot actors and dancers at a carnival or nightclub. Alongside some machines, are people dressed as robots, playing at them. This strikes me as what visitors to a robot hotel would really want from the experience – real humans alongside the machines, and the machines themselves to be more like personalities than just simple automatic mechanisms. The danger there is that if you did give robots personalities, you run the risk of creating miserable robots like the eternally depressed Marvin, the Paranoid Android. He was a ‘personality prototype’. ‘You can tell, can’t you?’ as he himself put it.

I’ve no doubt that the ruthless logic of capitalism means that there’ll be more of these hotels in the future. I think there’s already another like it in Los Angeles. But in the meantime I think human-run premises probably offer a better service. At least they have real cooks, rather than vending machines.