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Competent managerialism is not enough for Labour

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 8:40pm in

Andrew Rawnsley said this in The Observer this morning:

In their vagueness about how this feat is to be achieved, the report [on Labour’s election loss]’s authors are faithful reflections of the party’s leader. Mr Starmer has had almost nothing to say about policy since he became leader. He has been stronger as a prosecutor of the government than he has been as the advocate of a Labour alternative. One shadow cabinet member defends this approach by saying: “No one is ready to hear what a Labour government would do. The summit of our ambition at the moment is to sound credible and reasonable.”

There are many occasions when I have difficulty agreeing with Andrew Rawnsley. This is not one of them. I am hearing this comment from across the Labour spectrum now. And I am also hearing the excuses - including that it's been difficult to recruit policy advisers during lockdown.

I do not buy that claim. Nor do I accept that it is sufficient to sound credible and reasonable. These claims only work if one massive assumption is made, and that is that we are continuing to operate within an existing political and economic paradigm, where the only basis for claiming the right to hold office is managerial competence.

That, however, it is no longer true. The economic paradigm has ended. Neoliberalism has failed. The idea that the only role of politics is to put it back on its perch again, as was the objective in 2009, has to be dead, at least on the political left. The need now is for new thinking. That's the idea implicit on some of my comments published earlier this morning. And that new thinking cannot come from, or be the creation of, policy advisers: it has to be the deep-seated vision of the Labour leadership, or it will not work.

I have a fear. It is that Labour has swapped incompetence for competence, but also vision for managerialism. Incompetent vision was not enough. But nor is competent managerialism. It is time for Keir Starmer to show that he is a man of ideas. If he doesn't soon then Labour will fail to capitalise on the mess that Johnson is making, and we cannot afford that.

Release the Carbon Army needed to transform our economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 4:23pm in


Economics, Labour

I was pleased to see the Guardian reporting that:

Labour is drawing up ambitious proposals to rescue the post-coronavirus economy with a radical green recovery plan focused on helping young people who lose their jobs by retraining them in green industries.

They added:

Seeking to seize the initiative on the country’s future direction once the pandemic abates, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, has called for the plans to include creating a “zero-carbon army of young people” doing work such as planting trees, insulating buildings and working on green technologies.

As the old saying goes, eventually they agree with you. The idea of a 'carbon army' was created by Colin Hines and was kept alive for much for eh period 2010 to 2018 by his letters to the Guardian and my commentary here. The first reference I can find to us using the term was in 2008. This is from February 2009:

The Green New Deal calls for:

- Massive investment in renewable energy and wider environmental transformation in the UK, leading to,
- The creation of thousands of new green collar jobs
- Reining in reckless aspects of the finance sector - but making low-cost capital available to fund the UK's green economic shift
- Building a new alliance between environmentalists, industry, agriculture, and unions to put the interests of the real economy ahead of those of footloose finance

It recognises that:

The global economy is facing a 'triple crunch': a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially devastating consequences.

And it calls for:

- a bold new vision for a low-carbon energy system that will include making 'every building a power station'.
- the creation and training of a 'carbon army' of workers to provide the human resources for a vast environmental reconstruction programme.
- the establishment of new savings media to pay for the transition to a low-carbon economy.
- more realistic fossil fuel prices.
- minimising corporate tax evasion by clamping down on tax havens and by promoting better corporate financial reporting.

- re-regulating the domestic financial system.
- breaking up the discredited financial institutions.

This is an ambitious agenda. It's what we need.

I highlight the particular phrase that resonates this morning. But so does this, again from the Guardian:

This could also involve retraining older people, Miliband said, saying that there should be an ambition to “leave no worker behind” in any transition towards a different economy.

He added: “But we know that the longer young people stay out of work, the more it blights their future prospects. We need a sort of zero-carbon army of young people doing the things that we know we need to do anyway.

“My first priority would be to say to young people, ‘We’re going to find you fulfilling, decently paid work which is going to make a contribution to this absolutely vital cause that we face.’ I think that’s step one in the emergency.”

This was always the objective of the Green New Deal.

We missed out in 2009.

We cannot do so this time, surely?

The Tories are the biggest government borrowers, and have been since 1946

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 5:49pm in

It is often suggested that Labour is profligate and the Toriescare the naturally ‘safe pair of hands’ when it comes to running the economy. The Tories, it is presumed, do not borrow as much as Labour. This is a hypothesis I have tested before. I thought it time to update to to the end of the 2019/20 financial year.

The analysis that follows is based on borrowing, as reported by the House of Commons Linbrary and other data supplied by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The government in office was decided by who was at the end of a financial year.

I then calculated the total net borrowing in Labour and Conservative years and averaged them by the number of years in office. All figures are stated billions of pounds in all the tables that follow and in this case are in original values i.e. in the prices of the periods when they actually occurred:

The Conservatives borrowed more, not just absolutely (which is unsurprising as they had more years in office), but on average.

This though, is a bit unfair: the value of money changes over time. So I restated all borrowing in 2019 prices to eliminate the bias this gives rise to. This resulted in the following table:

In current prices the Conservatives still borrowed more (much more) overall, and on average, by a long way.

So then I speculated that this may be distorted by events since 2008. That is what the Conservatives would claim, after all: they would say that they have spent six years clearing up Labour's mess. So I took those years out of account and looked at the first 62 years of the sample. First I did this in original prices:

It looked like their claim might stack. So I did it again in 2019 prices:

The Conservatives borrowed more, after all, although it was a close run thing.

Then I speculated that this might be because Labour are good Keynesians: maybe they repaid national debt more often than the Conservatives. Or, to put it another way, they actually repaired the roof when the sun was shining. This is the data in terms of number of years:

Labour do walk the talk: they repay national debt much more often in absolute and percentage terms than the Conservatives. In fact, one in four Labour years saw debt repaid. That was true in less than one in ten Conservative years.

But maybe the Conservatives repaid more. I checked that. This is the data in both original and 2014 prices:

Labour not only repaid more often, it turns out: it also repaid much more in total and on average (not shown) during each year when repayment was made.

So what do we learn? Two essential things, I suggest.

First, Labour borrows less than the Conservatives. The data shows that.

And second, Labour has always repaid debt more often than the Conservatives, and has always repaid more debt, on average.

The trend does not vary however you do the data. I have tried time lagging it for example: it makes no difference.

Or, to put it another way, the Conservatives are the party of high UK borrowing and low debt repayment contrary to all popular belief.

For those interested, this is the overall summary table: the pattern in the right hand column is really quite surprising:

Data sources

The basic data on borrowing came from the House of Commons Library. This data is updated over time: figures will differ from earlier versions of this blog.

All other data comes from the Office for Budget Responsibility

Tactical voting is not enough. To stop Brexit – and save democracy – we need a Coupon Election.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2019 - 1:13am in

The General Election that will take place on 12th December is the most important in modern British history. It is an election that will decide not just whether the UK leaves the European Union – and hence whether the Brexit project, a project of the far Right that aims to embed austerity, succeds: it is also about whether the United Kingdom survives as an entity and, most importantly, is one that will decide whether Britain takes the road to Trump-style populism (whether of Right or Left) or whether it reasserts its faith in empirical, progressive liberal democracy.

At the heart of decision is the fact that Brexit has become far more than a matter of whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Brexit has become the central issue in a culture war, one in which democracy has been subverted by the insistence that a Brexit that reflects the assumptions and aspirations of the far economic Right – one that destroys jobs and services, that sells the NHS to US health-care providers and big pharma, that destroys environmental and food standards, and removes rights of both UK and other EU citizens to freedom of movement – is “the will of the people”. And that claim institutionalises a referendum – advisory in law and corrupted by malpractice – as a legitimate expression of democracy that stands above the right of Parliament to decide. It is a Brexit that has elevated the outcome of a narrow, corrupted, three-year-old plebiscite into a democratic act in which the choices that have been made by politicians – often out of fear of the extremists in their own parties – into an expression of the popular will. It has led to a situation in which unlawful data manipulation, contempt for Parliamentary and democratic norms, open gerrymandering through controlling electoral registration, and threats of violence against politicians who dare to speak truth to power have become commonplace.

And it is a Brexit in which the leadership of the Labour Party is just as culpable. The evolution of Labour’s Brexit policy makes Finnegan’s Wake look like a model of narrative simplicity, but its confusion and tortuous contradictions are the result of one central fact; its determination to “respect the referendum”. But in order to do that, you have to accept that a marginal result in a corrupt election is something that sets in stone the most important decision of our time; and accepts that Parliament does not have control any more. There are many courageous Labour MPs who have understood that democracy means putting the interests of your constituents first, and that democracy is about far more than obedience to a corrupt plebiscite in order to deliver a Brexit framed by politicians of the Right; but they are the minority.

So, we have a divide that has cut right across the two main political parties in the UK. Other parties have been clearer: the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party are all Remain parties. However, the Conservative Party has, since the election of Boris Johnson as Leader – and the installation of Dominic Cummings as his ideological minder at No 10 – purged its liberal wing with a ruthlessness and efficiency that the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn – who have presided over a similar attempt to ensure ideological purity in the Labour Party – must envy. Liberal Tory MPs have been expelled or are standing down in their droves; especially women. Meanwhile, the Labour leadership – to the despair of many of its MPs, and of those of its members who have not left already – is largely controlled by people from outside the democratic Labour tradition. As I have argued in my book, they draw their politics from a Leninist model of political organisation in which political direction is given by a vanguard elite, with the only role of the ordinary members ( the “rank and file”) being to give that vanguard democratic legitimacy by voting its decisions through.

The one beacon of hope in all of this has been the willingness of Parliament to seize control. Assisted by the efforts of a courageous Speaker who has been willing to stand up for the rights of Parliament against an executive that has openly agitated against its independence, MPs have taken control of the process. They are the people who have ensured that we are still in the EU, and have stood firm against both the intellectual dishonesty of Brexit and the bullying of a Conservative Party leadership that has no respect for democratic norms.

So, what is to be done?

I think the answer from a Remainer and democratic perspective must be – we need to get past party labels and ensure the election of a Parliament of remainers – which, because of the resonances of Brexit, means a Parliament that is willing to assert the values of empirical liberal democracy. A Popper Parliament, one might say. My own view – for what it is worth – is that Brexit in its broadest sense represents a political convulsion which will see a realignment of party politics; and that at the heart of that realignment will be a reassertion of liberal values against populism. But whether that happens or not, my belief as a democrat is that populism, whether of right and left, must be defeated.

And that means moving the focus away from parties to candidates. As well as considering who is most likely to win in an individual constituency, it’s important to consider what each candidate’s position on Brexit is – and, if they are an MP seeking re-election, looking at their record. There is no point in voting tactically in favour of a former MP who has simply toed Corbyn’s line – which is that Labour should be delivering a better Brexit. Or one who follows the line being sent out from Corbyn’s ideological minders that Labour should be neutral on Brexit; because if you want to preserve the NHS, protect jobs and services, maintain workers’ rights, keep environmental and food standards, and preserve freedom of movement, you simply cannot be “neutral” on Brexit. You are voting for a Labour MP who, in truth, has morally and intellectually capitulated to the Brexiters’ neoliberal agenda.

And, by the same token, that means rewarding Labour MPs who have stood up againt Brexit. To take an example: Cardiff Central is one of the Liberal Democrats’ top targets in Wales, but Labour’s Jo Stevens resigned her front bench post over Brexit, and has been a staunch supporter of the People’s Vote campaign and has been with us front and centre in the campaign against Brexit in Cardiff and Wales more generally. She has earned the vote of every Remainer in that predominantly remain constituency. Likewise, we should back liberal Tories: people like Dominic Grieve, standing as an independent, or Antoinette Sandbach, seeking re-election under Liberal Democrat colours in Eddisbury, deserve the unstinting support of remainers.

And we should not accept simply being content with tactical voting. We Remainers seem unduly reticent about our strength. It was us, not the Brexiters, who twice got more than a million people – protesting loudly but peacefully – on to the streets of London. It was us, not the Brexiters, who managed to get six million signatures on a petition to revoke the UK’s Article 50 notification. Only today, the Brexiters promised a mass rally in Doncaster – nobody, literally nobody turned up: not even the Weimaresque local Labour MP Caroline Flint who has chosen to back the Johnson deal in the hope that it will save her seat. It’s time we in the Remain movement realised that we are powerful, and organised. I can understand that the national remain movement has sought to keep out of party politics; but we in the grassroots need to use our strength and back candidates of whatever party who stand firm against Brexit, stand firm against the leaderships of both Labour and Tories, who want to deliver Brexit.

Above all, we need to convince Labour people to vote for good candidates from other parties – especially Liberal Democrats. Yes, I know what the Liberal Democrats did in 2010; it was appalling and they paid for it politically. But things have moved on; the Orange Bookers have been routed and this election is about the future, not the past. The fact is that any Brexit means you will not be able to deliver your aspirations for a society that is more equal, more just – a society for the many, not the few: even the soft cuddly Brexit that Corbyn (wrongly) thinks the EU will allow him to negotiate. Jeremy Corbyn claims to lead a member-led party, but the Leninists around him have treated you with contempt. They haven’t listened to you, they have dismissed you, they have done everything they can to ensure your beliefs are not reflected in Conference policy, they have reminded you that you need to remember your place in the so-called “rank and file”. It is surely time for you to rediscover your self-respect and vote for what you know is right, not what will get you a pat on the head from your local Momentum enforcer. Your grandchildren are more important; give them an internationalist and democratic future.

And ultimately we need a list. The tactical voting websites appear to have been largely discredited before they have begun. We need to move on from party. We need to be able to say to candidates; it’s your choice. You can have the remainers’ coupon, or you can stand up for your Brexiter party leadership in Westminster. But there are millions of us, and probably our numbers in your constituency are probably enough to seal your fate.

But above all it’s time we stopped being defensive. We need to organise, and at a national level, Remainers should be issuing our coupons. We are counted in our millions and we should use our power. And if we do, we can stop Brexit and defeat populism at the most important election of our time.

Precarious work and the organisation of workers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/06/2016 - 6:00am in


Blog, Labour

The issue of precarious work and of the organisation of precarious workers is becoming one of the core themes of research not just within the sociology of work and labour but also across the whole social sciences’ spectrum. Conditions of precariousness or precarity at work are in fact directly connected with discussions on the models of global capital accumulation, on life conditions in urbanised environments, on the emergence of new subjectivities and the politics of representation, on the reconfiguration of the working class and its organisations, on social justice and civil rights and on migrations and borders’ regulations. Discussions on precarity are thus profoundly interdisciplinary, transnational in their reach and critical of the status quo, interrogating the present in search of a more equal future.

Workers and labour bookIn this sense, research on precarity, both as a work and material life condition, is highly political almost by its own nature and this is a fundamental point to stress for research aiming to social change. In the context of the worldwide crisis of the traditional labour movement and the erosion of workers’ rights, two open questions directly interrogate the political dimension of precarity. Can precarity be seen as the new common ground, the new common condition around which different and newly emerging subjectivities can mobilise? Is precarity reconfiguring the organisational and political forms of working class representation?

Many have rightly questioned that precarity is something new. Developing countries have always had and continue to have informal, low paid, insecure and thus precarious workforces. Similarly, Western countries’ early industrial development has been based on the exploitation of a mass of poorly paid workers, often living in appalling conditions, something similar to what is experienced today by Chinese workers. Despite ameliorations and protective legislation gained through decades of worldwide working class struggles for political representation, 2.8 billion people, the majority of the working people in the world, still live with less than two dollars a day, an income for their work sufficient enough just to live in barely sustainable conditions. Moreover, two centuries after the formal abolition of slavery, millions of workers, continue to be victims of various forms of forced and bonded labour, particularly in the apparel and food industries serving the world consumers’ market. Thus, when we take this broader historical and geographical perspective, not just precarious work appears as the norm within capitalism, following Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, and, on the contrary, Fordism the exception but also the same idea of the ideal-typical, formal, protected, Fordist industrial worker. The latter has for more than a century been the epitome of the working class but it clearly becomes partial and one-sided. As Michael Denning rightly argued in his attempt to ‘decentre wage labour’, it is not necessarily the wage as formal contract of exchange that creates proletarians but ‘the imperative to earn a living’.

Precarity is not new. Differences of conditions in different parts of the world and economic sectors make precarity as a general mobilising concept difficult to use. Organising workers to struggle against precarious working conditions is further complicated by the autonomy and geographical dispersion that characterise many precarious jobs today. But a series of technological, organisational  and socio-economical changes, simultaneously affecting the world system, have led to new reconfigurations of work and labour centred one way or another on conditions of precarity. Western urban labour markets have been transformed into post-industrial, service oriented precarious environments inhabited by a growing mass of unprotected migrant workers;  the consolidation of cities across the globe as centres of value creation and realisation, led by financial and real estate speculation, has produced an increase in the global urban population, with profound inequalities both in terms of living and working conditions and access to consumption goods;  the development of distribution, logistics, transport and services provision across the global value chain has allowed corporations to extract value across the whole chain using existing countries differentials;  the spread of information technology, the lowering costs of sea and land transportation and the speed of capital’s mobility have facilitated processes of delocalisation and a ‘race to the bottom’, in terms of salaries and working conditions. Services based on digital platforms such as the one provided by Uber or Amazon’s Mechanical Turks further flexibilise and deregulate work, penalising particularly women and young people that remain trapped by the possibility of an easy economic return with flexible work hours.

Differences among the various forms of precariousness exist and theoretically a ‘multiplication of labour’, made up by a variegated range of ‘subaltern’ workers’ is enlarging the concept of the working class beyond the model industrial workers of the twentieth-century. However, all these technological, organisational and socio-political changes are creating to a certain extent, especially in urbanised areas of the world, common conditions of precarious work and life for many. Precarity as a material condition is today crossing the divide between previously clear demarcations: the formal/informal; citizens/no citizens; North/South; workplace/community. Similarly, the creation of new geographical spaces of capital accumulation such as special economic zones, land and maritime industrial and commercial corridors, logistic hubs, or border industrial zones, produce a potentially critical mass of precarious, mainly migrant, workers located often at strategic points of global capitalism’s productive chains.

From a political point of view, the sharing of similar working and living conditions and of experiences of struggle against precarity can open the room for a new common language of dispossession and oppression of a new working class in the making. However, the passage from an understanding of the common materialities and differences composing today’s living labour to the composition of a political subject promoting the interests of the working class majority, as Marxist autonomists would probably phrase it, is constantly obstructed by ideological and material conditions.

As social scientists committed to the production of socially relevant research there is much we can do in the ideological sphere to raise social awareness and produce a counter-hegemonic knowledge. We can establish connections between specific models of accumulations/institutional frameworks and workers’ material conditions and show how these models are actively produced and reproduced, creating simultaneously solidarity and fragmentation among workers and thus explaining the difficulties experienced by these in terms of organisation.  We can produce new knowledge on unexplored and invisible sections of the working class or map capital and living labour composition in geographically defined and strategic areas, such as cities or logistic hubs. We can study precarious workers and their political alliances, their organisational forms and their links with state institutions and power. We can investigate how new class identities and organisations are increasingly built across space, in the workplace, in the community, in the household, connecting the spheres of work and life. We should, following David Harvey, understand consumerism and the lifestyles dictated by the form that urbanisation takes and how they are important in creating new needs, new demands and new interests on the part of workers and thus how ‘to get around with forms of organising that actually recognise this change in the dynamics of class struggle’.

All these are existing and potential lines of research that can help to link the issue of precarious work to a broader political economic dimension and to ground debates on the perspectives of precarious workers’ organisation within the context of currently and locally existing capitalist relations, rather than in more abstracted trade unions’ strategies and responses. In fact, the mayor problem that the ‘rediscovery’ of precarious work as an area of research within the field of labour studies has created is that it has not been accompanied, in general, by a serious reflection on the problem of organisation. Studies have generally focused on top-down, trade union-centred experiences and strategies of organising precarious workers and even when other configurations and alliances have been considered, as with the case of community unionism, this has always been done from a trade unions’ point of view. This narrow approach does not allow us to delve deep into the complexity and richness of the social processes and mediations conducive to collective organisations and to identify the contextual structural factors, material circumstances and concrete possibilities affecting precarious workers’ daily reality.

SassenThe issue of precarity and precarious work is central to any emancipatory discussions within current capitalist dynamics.  But we have to be able to move from a still dominant trade union-centred approach to a truly working class analysis and do this by reconnecting the precarity affecting the sphere of work with that affecting the other spheres of life. This can be done, for instance, by looking at how the precaritisation of work and life has been supported by the unpaid work women have continued to supply within the sphere of social reproduction and how this has created different strategies of resistance and survival beyond the workplaces. Similarly, we can look at the experiences of self-management and the solidarity economy in neighbourhoods as forms of people resistance to the precaritisation of work and life that simultaneously prefigure alternatives to working arrangements and economics.

In a recent intervention on building working class power, David Harvey argued that organising territories around the difficulties of everyday life is what would help the leftists to get out of the ‘symbiotic relationship’ of organising ‘themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganised’. Footprints of labour studies’ ‘symbiotic relationship’ with a trade union-represented working class continue to be dominant across social sciences disciplines.  Trade unions can still play a powerful role in organising workers worldwide, but an analysis of today’s work through the lens of precarious work and the forms of organisation that converge around this can emerge, to offer a ‘tipping point’, in Saskia Sassen’s definition, through which we understand broader changes in working class conditions and issues, opening up new hope and possibilities for emancipation from capitalist work. This is important for critical social sciences.

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