Posts Tagged ‘York University’

The Real News on Labour’s Plan For Nationalisation and Workplace Democracy

October 16, 2018

In this 15 minute video from the Baltimore-based The Real News network, host Aaron Mate talks to Leon Panitch, professor of political science at York University about the proposals announced at the Labour party’s conference last month that Labour intended to renationalize some of the privatized utilities, introduce profit-sharing schemes and workplace democracy in firms with over 250 members, in which 1/3 of the board would be elected by the workers.

The video includes a clip of John McDonnell announcing these policies, declaring that they are the greatest extension of economic democratic rights that this country has ever seen. He states that it starts in the workplace, and that it is undeniable that the balance of power is tipped against the worker. The result is long hours, low productivity, low pay and the insecurity of zero hours contracts. He goes on to say that Labour will redress this balance. They will honour the promise of the late Labour leader, John Smith, that workers will have full union rights from day one whether in full time, part time or temporary work. They will lift people out of poverty by setting a real living wage of ten pounds an hour.

McDonnell also says that they believe that workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and the returns that it makes. Employee ownership increases productivity and improves long-term decision making. Legislation will be passed, therefore, for large firms to transfer shares into an inclusive ownership fund. The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholders will give the workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.

Commenting on these proposals, Panitch says that in some ways they’re not surprising. McDonnell stated that Labour would inherit a mess. But his remarks were different in that usually governments use the fact that they will inherit a mess not to go through with radical policies. Panitch then talks about Labour’s commitment to bring the public utilities – rail, water, electricity, the post office – public ownership, pointing out that these used to be publicly owned before Thatcher privatized them. McDonnell particularly focused on water, before going beyond it, citing the 1918 Labour party constitution’s Clause IV, which Blair had removed. This is the clause committing the Labour party to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, under the best form of popular administration. And unlike previous nationalized industries, these will be as democratically-run as possible. Councils would be set up in the water sector made up of representatives of the local community and workers’ representatives to be a supervisory council over the managers in the nationalized water industry.

They then go to a clip of McDonnell talking about the nationalization of the utilities. McDonnell states that the renationalization of the utilities will be another extension of economic democracy. He states that this has proved its popularity in opinion poll after opinion poll. And it’s not surprising. Water privatization is a scandal. Water bills have risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatization. 18 billion pounds has been paid out in dividends. Water companies receive more in tax credits than they pay in tax. And each day enough water to meet the needs of 20 million people is lost due to leaks. ‘With figures like that’, he concludes, ‘we cannot afford not to take it back into popular ownership’.

Mate and Panitch then move on to discussing the obstacles Labour could face in putting these policies into practice, most particularly from the City of London, which Panitch describes as ‘the Wall Street of Britain’, but goes on to say that in some ways its even more central to financialized global capitalism. However, Panitch says that ‘one gets the sense’ that the British and foreign bourgeoisie have resigned themselves to these industries being brought back into public ownership. And in so far as bonds will be issued to compensate for their nationalization, McDonnell has got the commitment from them to float and sell them. He therefore believes that there won’t be much opposition on this front, even from capital. He believes that there will be more resistance to Labour trying to get finance to move from investing in property to productive industry.

He then moves on to talk about Labour’s plans for ten per cent of the stock of firms employing 250 or more people to go into a common fund, the dividends from which would passed on to the workers up to 500 pounds a year. Anything above that would be paid to the treasury as a social fund for meeting the needs of British people and communities more generally. Panitch states that this has already produced a lot of squawking from the Confederation of British Industry. Going to giving workers a third of the seats on the boards, Panitch states that it has already been said that it will lead to a flight of capital out of Britain. He discusses how this proposal can be radical but also may not be. It could lead to the workers’ representatives on these boards making alliances with the managers which are narrow and particular to that firm. The workers get caught up in the competitiveness of that firm, it stock prices and so on. He makes the point that it’s hardly the same thing as the common ownership of the means of production to have workers’ sitting on the boards of private companies, or even from workers’ funds to be owning shares and getting dividends from them. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction of socializing the economy more generally, and giving workers the capacity and encouraging them to decide what can be produced, where it’s produced, and what can be invested. And if it really scares British and foreign capital, this raises the question of whether they will have to introduce capital controls. Ultimately, would they have to bring the capital sector into the public sphere as a public utility, as finance is literally the water that forms the basis of the economy?

Mate then asks him about Labour’s refusal to hold a second referendum on Brexit, which angered some activists at the conference. Labour said that any second referendum could only be about the terms of the exit. Panitch states that people wanting Britain to remain in a capitalist Europe try to spin this as the main priority of the party’s members, even Momentum. He states that this is not the case at all, and that if you asked most delegates at the conference, most Labour members and members of Momentum, which they would prefer, a socialist Britain or a capitalist Europe, they would prefer a socialist Britain. The people leading the Remain campaign on the other hand aren’t remotely interested in a socialist Britain, and think it’s romantic nonsense at best. He states that the Corbyn leadership has said that they want a general election as they could secure an arrangement with Europe that would be progressive without necessarily being in Europe. They would accept the single market and a progressive stand on immigration rather than a reactionary one. They did not wish to endorse a referendum, which the Tories would have the power to frame the question. And this is particularly because of the xenophobic and racist atmosphere one which the initial Brexit vote was based. Panitch states that he is a great critic of the European Union, but he would have voted to remain because the debate was being led by the xenophobic right. He ends by saying that capital is afraid of the Trumps of this world, and it is because of the mess the right has made of things here in Britain with the Brexit campaign that capital might give a little bit more space for a period at least to a Corbyn government.

This latter section on Brexit is now largely obsolete because Labour has said it will support a second referendum. However, it does a good job of explaining why many Labour supporters did vote for Brexit. The editor of Lobster, Robin Ramsay, is also extremely critical of the European Union because of the way neoliberalism and a concern for capital and privatization is so much a part of its constitution.

Otherwise, these are very, very strong policies, and if they are implemented, will be a very positive step to raising people out of poverty and improving the economy. Regarding the possibility that the representatives of the workers on the company boards would ally themselves with capital against the workers, who put them there, has long been recognized by scholars discussing the issue of workers’ control of industry. It was to stop this happening that the government of the former Yugoslavia insisted that regular elections should be held with limited periods of service so that the worker-directors would rotate. Ha-Joon Chan in his books criticizing neoliberal economics also makes the points that in countries like France and Germany, where the state owns a larger proportion of firms and workers are involved in their companies through workers’ control, there is far more long-term planning and concern for the companies success. The state and the workers have a continuing, abiding interest in these firms success, which is not the case with ordinary investors, who will remove their money if they think they can get a better return elsewhere.

My concern is that these policies will be undermined by a concentrated, protracted economic warfare carried out against the Labour party and the success of these policies by capital, the CBI and the Tories, just as the Tories tried to encourage their friends in industry to do in speeches from Tweezer’s chancellors. These policies are desperately needed, but the Tory party and the CBI are eager to keep British workers, the unemployed and disabled in poverty and misery, in order to maintain their control over them and maximise profits.

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Rachael Kiddey at Bristol University and the Archaeology of Homelessness

January 17, 2014

A few years ago I went to a talk at Bristol University on the archaeology of homelessness in the city, presented by Rachael Kiddey, John Schofield and some of the homeless people, who had helped them and whose lives they had investigated. Kiddey was a former archaeology student at Bristol University, who was now living in Stokes Croft, the part of Bristol which was at the centre of the project. John Schofield is a very senior archaeologist and a member of the Council for British Archaeology. Among his other works is the book with John Vince, The Archaeology of British Towns in their European Settings, published by Equinox.

The project was Kiddey’s idea. She had been angered by plans to demolish the grain store in Stokes Croft. This was a listed building, and one of the few remaining warehouses from the 19th century left in Bristol. Stokes Croft is one of Bristol’s inner city suburbs. It’s been described as ‘bohemian’. It has an ethnically mixed population, including many students and artists. Although it dates from the 19th century, it has suffered considerable economic decline. It was one of the areas in Bristol hit by the anti-Thatcher riots in 1981. As she has pointed out in other presentations on the project, as a historic part of Bristol Stokes Croft enjoys the same level of official protection as the far wealthier and more respectable Clifton. In practice, however, the situation is very different, and despite their legal status Stokes Croft and its buildings were given very little protection from neglect, decay and demolition by the city’s authorities. From what I can remember, the Grain Store was destroyed as part of a project to build luxury flats on the site. Kiddey was angered by this attack on the city’s working class heritage, and the destruction of this building had been so important to the city’s working people, in order to benefit the wealthy middle class. Her study of the city’s homeless grew out of her campaign against the destruction of this old, industrial building.

The project was deliberately set up to be socially inclusive. She quoted EU legislation, which states that every section of society should have the right to participate in the production of culture. This, she made very clear, also included the homeless, a marginal and excluded group. As she started to develop her ideas, she befriended a number of homeless people. They were initially suspicious, but after she had managed to assure them she was genuine, and not a police spy, they gave her considerable support. They took her with them on their journeys across the city, showing her where they lived, visited, and some of the places where they could get a meal, a bed for the night or simply a sympathetic ear.

One of the first things, she found out being taken around the city by them was that they were certainly not lazy. In their journeys about Bristol they walked about six miles a day. When one her homeless friends showed her the makeshift camp he had made underneath a wall or fence, she remarked on the strong similarity between it, and the remains left by ancient hunter-gatherer peoples around their rock shelters. These were camps set up underneath a rock overhang, which gave them some protection from the elements. The homeless people she spoke ate a particular Caribbean cafĂ© in Stokes Croft. This was one of the few places that would serve them. They also respected it as the owners would not tolerate any trouble from their customers. If someone ‘kicked off’ in there, the staff would throw everyone out, leaving the troublemaker to face the ire of the other diners. They also had a lot of respect for a community of nuns in the area. Although the Sisters would not give them money, they would listen to them, something which the city’s destitute appreciated. They also gave her information about the area’s homeless shelters and their experiences with them. Conditions in one of them were actually so bad that one homeless man went back on the streets as this was a better alternative to the squalor he found in the shelter.

Kiddey managed to get support for the project from Schofield, who was very pleased to give it. He appreciated its novelty and the way it expanded and challenged ideas about archaeology and what it can do. Archaeology is not just about the distant past. It can also cover the very recent and contemporary. One of the other female students at Bristol University, for example, was researching a Ph.D. on mobile phone masts.

Kiddey’s study of homelessness in Bristol is part of a wider study of homelessness by archaeologists around the world. In America this is led by Dr Larry Zimmerman, an archaeologist and professor of Museum Studies at Indiana University – Perdue University Indiana. In an interview with one of the staff at Indianapolis public library, Zimmerman states that archaeology is not just about what happened a century ago, but also what occurred only ten minutes previously. He has stated that the study of homelessness benefits archaeology, as it prevents it from becoming socially irrelevant. Few people are directly touched or affected by academic’s study of the people’s of the distant past. Zimmerman developed his interest in the archaeology of the homeless when excavating the mansion of one of Indianapolis’ wealthiest citizens. He found evidence of homeless people squatting and occupying the site going back over a century to the 1840s. Since then, other archaeologists around the world have followed Zimmerman in studying homelessness, both in the present and in the ancient past. Zimmerman’s fellow researcher, Jessica Welch has personally experienced the problem. She was homeless drug addict for many years, until she managed to turn her life around, get of the street and into university.

The archaeologists studying the homeless used a number of professional techniques to record their lives. This included mapping their movements around the city, recording their rubbish and other material culture left at the places they visited and occupied. In the winter of 2009-10 the university excavated ‘Turbo Island’, a traffic island in Stokes Croft used by the homeless. This got its nickname from a brand of strong lager they drank there. Other sites visited and recorded included phone boxes and the ‘Bear Pit’. This is a circular public ‘square’, sunk below the level of the main roads surrounding it and reached by underpass in Bristol’s Horsefair. It lies at the entrance to Stoke’s Croft in Broadmead.

What came out most strongly from the talk is how immensely hard these people’s lives are. Many of the individuals studied and who spoke at the talk had severe mental health problems, or problems with alcohol and/or drugs. Much of the material remains recovered from the sites were drug equipment, including ‘pins’ – hypodermic syringes – and ‘spoons’. These were the bottoms of drink cans, which had been cut off and shaped so that they could be used for cooking heroin. At least one of them had fled onto the streets to escape a brutally abusive home. From what I can remember, their lives could be extremely short. Homeless people are often the victims of unprovoked attacks and violence. There’s a report on Youtube from America about ‘Bum-bashing’. This does not, unfortunately, refer to some kind of harmless horseplay involving striking the buttocks, but attacks on the homeless by young men, simply for some kind of sick fun. Kiddey also spoke about one of the other derelict buildings in Stokes Croft occupied by the homeless. She stated that its former lift shaft was full of discarded mattresses. Furthermore, if someone died there, then their body would also be thrown down it. Their death would not be reported to the police, as the cops response would be to come and clear the building. One of the homeless speakers described how she had managed to turn her life around and get into social housing. She described how she had lived in this building with her other homeless friends. She described with a kind of amazed horror one evening she had shared with another three, when they were nearly all out of their minds on drugs and alcohol. One of them had became paranoid and was suffering a panic attack, as he had heard a police siren and now thought they were coming for him. What this girl found particularly amazing now is that at the time she thought it was normal.

It was a truly excellent presentation that really did challenge my own perceptions of the city’s homeless, and opened my eyes to their problems. I have to say I went to the talk with some scepticism about such deliberately socially inclusive projects. It’s all too easy to take up the views of some of the more Conservative journalists and pundits that projects like this were a superficial product of the Blair administration’s insistence on ‘inclusivity’. It can be all too easy to accept the attitude of the Daily Fail and other Right-wing rags that the homeless are just feckless scroungers, a social nuisance, who should be moved on and who deserve little pity or sympathy. This project showed the complete opposite. Their lives are bitterly hard. They are not on the street through idleness, but often through simple misfortune, or from mental health problems that have left them unable to hold down a normal life. As I mentioned earlier, at least one of them was on the streets because of horrific abuse in the parental home. These people do not the deserve the scorn and hatred as some kind of the threat to decent society. Rather, they should be given sympathy as people, who are more often than not severely unfortunate. Rather than tabloid attacks, they should be given proper help from the governments and charities so they can pick themselves up and live some kind of safe, normal, reasonable life. Unfortunately, thanks to the Coalition’s austerity policies and their attitude that if you’re unemployed or poor, it’s your fault, the chances of this are becoming increasingly small.

In this clip from Youtube below, Rachael Kiddey talks about her project with the homeless in Bristol. Warning to Bristol Evening Post readers: she makes no secret of her contempt for the newspaper, describing it as the Evening Fascist. As it is partly owned by the Daily Mail, some people would argue that’s the correct description.

Since then, Rachael Kiddey has moved on to do a Ph.D. in the archaeology of homelessness at York University. Here are another few videos from Youtube about the archaeology of homelessness in that ancient city.

This is part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

This is a video, also from Youtube, of Jon Barnes’ interview with Larry Zimmerman at Indianapolis Public Library.

This an ABC news report on ‘Bum Bashing’ assaults on the homeless.

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This is the address for a webpage on the Archaeology of Homelessness

http://archaeologyofhomelessness.wordpress.com/

This site gives further information on Larry Zimmerman’s and Jessica Welch’s work researching the archaeology of homelessness in America.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1602577/archeology_of_homelessness/