strikes

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Strikes plumb the depths

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/02/2021 - 5:50am in

Although there have been plenty of reports of rising labor militancy in the US—teachers’ strikes, tech and delivery app organizing—it’s sadly not showing up in the strike data.

In its annual release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were just 7 major “work stoppages” (which include lockouts as well as strikes) in 2020, tied with 2017 for the second-lowest number since 1947, and beaten only by 2009’s 5. What strike action there was, says the BLS, was mainly against state and local government employers (5 of them), not private ones (2).

Here’s a graph of the grim trajectory. Over the period shown, total employment has tripled, meaning that the collective power of these strikes is a fraction of what it once was. If you adjust for employment growth, last year’s 7 would have been just over 2 by 1950’s standard. That year, there were over 400 strikes.

Work stoppages 2020

Another measure, known as days of “idleness” (a nice Victorian touch)—the share of total workdays lost to strikes or lockdowns—was immeasurably small: 0.00%, rounded to two decimal points, which is how it’s published. Last year the twelfth in the last twenty that scored a 0.00%; that never happened before 2001.

Idleness 2020

Presented with these stats, people sometimes point to smaller strikes as where the action is. That’s probably not the case, but numbers are hard to come by. Another agency, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, publishes data on stoppages involving fewer than 1,000 workers, but they’re presented in a very user-hostile format: monthly spreadsheets listing strikes underway that month, with no aggregated summary numbers like the larger-strike data. When I last looked at the data, in 2018, it was telling the same story as larger strikes.

I don’t want to come across as somebody sitting in a comfy desk chair lecturing, Spartacist-style, about what labor should do. US law and business practice have made it very difficult to mount strikes. Bosses and their politicians understand that without the option to withhold labor, workers are nearly powerless, and they’ve mounted innumerable obstacles to walkouts.

But for those of us who think you can’t have a better society without stronger unions, these symptoms are dire. Jane McAlevey’s mentor at 1199 New England, Jerry Brown, says that the strike is labor’s muscle and if you don’t exercise it regularly it atrophies. Strike just for practice, even if you don’t really need to, he says. The strike muscle is looking very atrophied. 

Radio 4 Programme on Friday on the History of British Fascism

Radio 4 on Friday, 19th February 2021 begins a new, three part series on the history of British Fascism, Britain’s Fascist Thread. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times, which is on at 11 O’clock in the morning, runs

Historian Camilla Schofield explores a century of British fascism, from the formation of the British Fascisti in 1923, arguing that it is a central and ongoing part of the British story. The first programme takes the rally staged by the British Union of Fascists at Olympia in June 1934 as a keyhole through which to look in order to understand fascism in the years before the Second World War.

The additional piece by David Crawford about the series on the facing page, 132, reads

There have been fascist movements in Britain for almost a century now and, with the recent news of young teenagers being arrested for being a part of neo-Nazi groups, it seems as if this stain on our national character is not fading away. Historian Camilla Schofield, who has published a book on Enoch Powell and Britain’s race relations, argues that fascism shouldn’t be seen as something alien imported from abroad but a central and, yes, ongoing part of the British story. This three part survey of British Fascism begins at the rally by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at Olympia in 1934 then rewinds to 1923 when the androgynous, upper-middle class Rotha Lintorn-Orman formed the British Fascisti, supposedly after an epiphany while digging her garden. A warning from history not to take our precious democracy for granted.

Martin Pugh also argues that British Fascism wasn’t an import from abroad but a continuation of certain strands in British political history in his book on British Fascism between the Wars. This is based on the British Fascists’ own contention that their movement had its basis in Queen Elizabeth’s enfranchisement of certain towns in the 16th century. This formed a native corporatist tradition like the corporate state Mussolini was creating in Fascist Italy.

As for Rotha Lintorn-Orman, I think this very middle class lady was an alcoholic, who thought that she was in astral contact with the spirit of the Duc d’Orleans, a nobleman from the time of the French Revolution. This aristo’s ghost told her that all revolutions from the French to the Russian were the work of the Jews, who were trying to destroy European, Christian civilisation.

The British Fascisti were really extreme right-wing Tories rather than Fascists proper. They specialised in disrupting socialist meetings and supplying blackleg labour during strikes. In one confrontation with the left, they managed to force a van supplying copies of the Daily Herald, a Labour paper, off the road. I think Oswald Mosley described their leadership as consisting of middle class women and retired colonels. They were in talks to merge their organisation with Mosley’s until Britain’s greatest wannabe dictator asked them about the corporate state. I don’t think they knew what it was. When he explained, they decried it as ‘socialism’ and Mosley decided that they weren’t worth bothering with.

Pugh’s book also argues that the British idea that our nation is intrinsically democratic is very much a product of hindsight. He points out that there was considerable opposition to democracy amongst the upper classes, especially the Indian office. British ideas about the franchise were tied to notions of property and the ability to pay rates. The French notion that the vote was an inalienable right was rejected as too abstract.

British fascism is also shares with its counterparts on the continent an origin in the concerns of the 19th century agricultural elite with the declining health and fitness of their nations. The upper classes were appalled at the poor physiques of men recruited by the army to fight the Boer War from the new, industrial towns. There was an obvious fear that this was going to leave Britain very weak militarily.

It’s also struck me that with her background in race relations, Schofield will also argue that British fascism also has its roots in native British racism and imperialism, citing organisations such as the anti-Semitic British Brothers League, which was formed to stop continental Jewish immigration to Britain.

Oswald Mosley also tried telling the world that British fascism wasn’t an import, but then, he also tried telling everyone that the Fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe – was an ancient British symbol. It wasn’t. It was a Roman symbol, and represented the power of the lictor, a type of magistrate, to beat and execute Roman citizens. It was adopted by Mussolini as the symbol of his movement, Fascism, which actually takes its name from the Italian word fascio, which means a bundle or group. I think that Pugh’s right in that there certainly is a native tradition of racism and extreme nationalism in Britain, and that the British self-image of themselves as an innately democratic nation is a product of Churchill’s propaganda during the Second World War. However, Fascism proper with its black shirts and corporative state is very much an import from Mussolini’s Italy. But then, Mosley also claimed that socialism and liberalism were also imports. It will, however, be interesting to hear what Schofield has to say, especially with the really bonkers parts of British fascism, like Lintorn-Orman and her spiritual conversations with French aristocratic Jew-haters from the Other Side.

A Sign of Things to Come

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/02/2021 - 7:55am in

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The working class currently faces the challenge of the combined consequences of the pandemic and the underlying crisis of capitalism. Even though the health emergency is far from over, the wave of redundancies and restructuring has already started. The degree to which workers are able to not only resist attacks on their conditions but to impose their own interests on the ruling class in the next few months will shape the balance of class forces.

read more

But Belfield, Churchill was a White Supremacist!

A few days ago right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up a video expressing his outrage yet again at those evil lefties and their attacks on great British heroes. The lefties in question were the awesome Ash Sarkar, Michael Walker and co. of Novara Media, and the great British hero was Winston Churchill. Sarkar and Walker had dared to call Winnie a White supremacist and chuckle about it! How terrible! And so Belfield put up his video attacking them for daring to scoff at the great man.

The problem was, he did nothing to refute their accusation. He played a clip of Sarkar and Walker calling Churchill a White supremacist and laughing, but didn’t actually provide any facts to prove Churchill wasn’t a racist. All he did was attack Sarkar and her comrades for saying he was. And I don’t think he could have argued that Churchill wasn’t a White supremacist. In the clip he used, Sarkar states that Churchill was a White supremacist by his own admission. And I find that entirely credible. Churchill is now a great, molten god thanks his inspiring leadership during the Second World War. So much so, that he is supposed to stand for everything good and right and be absolutely above criticism. Or at least, he is to members of the Tory faithful. But such attitudes obscure just how controversial Churchill was in his own day, and the real racism in British society. Churchill is still hated by proud, working class Welshmen and women today for sending the troops in to shoot striking miners in one of the pit villages. He was responsible for the debacle of Gallipolli during the Second World War, a bloodbath that in my opinion has tainted the relationship between us and the Ozzies. It shows Johnson’s complete lack of any real historical sympathy for the victims of his blundering that in his biography of the great man, he gives it a ten for being both a colossal mistake and for showing ‘the Churchill factor’, whatever that is. Churchill was so bloodthirsty and keen to use the army to suppress the general strike, that Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was determined to keep him away from it as far as possible. Irish nationalists also hate him for sending the Black and Tans in to crush the Irish revolution. Churchill spent many years in the political wilderness. What saved him was his tour of Africa in the 1920s. At the same time, his opposition to Nazi Germany wasn’t based on any hatred of their racism and suppression of democracy. The historian Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two World Wars states as an authoritarian himself, Churchill liked the Spanish dictator General Franco. He considered Mussolini to be a ‘perfect swine’, possibly because the Duce declared that his Blackshirts were the equivalent of the British Black and Tans. But nevertheless, Churchill still went on a visit of Fascist Italy. Churchill’s real reason for opposing Nazism was because he was afraid that Germany would be a threat to British interests in the North Sea.

I got the impression that Churchill was without question an imperialist, which means that he believed unquestionably that White Brits were superior and had every right to their empire and dominion over the darker races. Imperialism was so much a part of official British culture, that I think it’s forgotten just how powerful a force it was and how deeply embedded it was. Empire Day was a national holiday, the British empire was lauded in books like Our Empire Story, and one of the strips in the Dandy or the Beano was ‘The Colony Nigs’. Some British scientists also shared the biological racism that served to legitimate discrimination against non-Whites. As late as 1961 wannabe dictator Oswald Mosley cited articles and papers by British scientists claiming that Blacks were less intelligent than Whites in his book Mosley – Right or Wrong.

If Churchill had only believed that non-Whites were inferior, but otherwise treated them with the benign paternalism that Britain was supposed to show towards its subject races, then his White supremacist views wouldn’t have been too bad. It would have been patronising, but no harm would have been done. But his racism was partly responsible for creating the Bengal famine, which carried off 3-6 million Indians. Churchill had ordered their grain to be sequestered as a reserve food supply for the troops in Europe. This left the Bengalis unable to feed themselves. Many of Churchill’s senior military staff pleaded him to release the food, but he refused, stating that the Indians were a filthy race and that it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’ – in other words, breeding and having too many children. It’s an atrocity that could be compared to the horrific murder of the Jews by the Nazis, and some of Churchill’s generals certainly did so. It’s a monstrous stain on Churchill’s character, but very few Brits are probably aware of it.

Does that mean that it’s acceptable to deface Churchill’s statue, as one irate young man did during the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted earlier this year? The lad scrawled ‘was a racist’ on it, an act which raised right-wing hackles. It was ostensibly to protect his and statues like it that prompted mobs of White Brits to stage their own counterdemonstrations. No, I don’t believe it is, even though it’s true. It is thanks to Churchill’s leadership that western Europe at least remained free from Nazi domination or that of Stalinist Communism. Spike Milligan in one volume of his war memoirs states that if Britain hadn’t entered the War, the Iron Curtain would have stopped at his home town of Bexhill. Churchill, monster though he was in so very many ways, deserves respect and credit for that.

But that doesn’t mean that he should be above criticism either. There’s another video put up by Belfield in which he complaints about a planned re-vamp of Have I Got News For You. Apparently the Beeb is going to replace long time contestants Ian Hislop and Paul Merton as part of their diversity campaign. This involves sacking middle-aged White men in favour of more women and BAME presenters and performers. In his video, Belfield complains about how this change will deprive British television of the pair’s comedic talents. Which is true, but I wonder how he feels about Hislop’s magazine’s attitude to his great hero. Private Eye when it started up was deeply critical of Churchill, running cartoons and articles lampooning him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’ and criticising him for betraying just about every cause he ever embraced. The Eye and its founders were never radical lefties. They were all public schoolboys, but nevertheless the magazine was regarded with intense suspicion and distaste by many. When it first began many newsagents refused to stock it. One of my co-workers at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in the ’90s and first years of this century shared that dislike. Seeing me reading it over lunch one day, he asked me if I really read it. I dare say that it was the magazine’s willingness to poke fun and attack respected figures like Churchill that provoked some of that intense dislike. But nevertheless, Britain remains a free country – just! – because we are able to criticise our leaders and point out that they aren’t flawless idols we have to revere and obey, like some monstrous dictator. And that includes the right to criticise and spoof Winston Churchill.

Belfield constantly sneers at the younger generation as ‘leftie snowflakes’, but he’s the one with the delicate sensibilities here. I’m not denying Churchill deserves respect for his stern resistance to Nazism, but he was a racist whose supremacist views caused death and suffering to millions of Indians. Getting annoyed with Sarkar and the rest for calling him a racist and White supremacist won’t change that.

Belfield had therefore do what he’s always telling left-wing millennials to do, and show a bit of backbone and get over it.

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.

The Tories Are Economic Saboteurs – Get the Gulags Ready!

The former Soviet Union had a series of legislation defining and punishing economic crimes. As all industry and agriculture was nationalised and the country a single-party totalitarian state, any attempt to disrupt this situation was considered subversive and attack on the Soviet system and state itself. This meant that people could be jailed for organising a strike or industrial dispute, or for simply trying to set up their own, independent private company. This was actually permitted under the Soviet Constitution, but was limited to self-employment. Thus when Gorbachev started glasnost and liberalising the economy in the 1980s, one of the first developments was the rise of private taxis by people with their own cars. Under hardliners like Brezhnev, however, any attempt to set up one’s own company was strictly punished, and the offending entrepreneur sent to the gulags. It was declared to be and punished as sabotage and anti-Soviet activities.

Stalin justified his terror and mass arrests in the 1930s through lies that the Soviet Union and its economic development were under threat from an army of saboteurs. Secret agents and collaborators with the capitalist West, including the followers of his exiled rival, Trotsky, were active causing disaffection with Stalin’s personal rule and plotting to cripple and destroy Soviet industry and agriculture. 30 million Soviet citizens were falsely accused, convicted and either executed or sent to the gulags to die of starvation and overwork.

But now in neoliberal, capitalist Britain, the Tory party really does seem to be trying to sabotage this country’s industry and agriculture. Boris Johnson’s Tory are heavily funded by hedge funds, who are shorting the British economy. They’ve gambled on a no-deal Brexit ruining Britain. And so Boris and his coterie are pushing for precisely that type of exit from the EU. Yesterday the Boorish Bozo and his minions announced that they were going to tear up the deal they’d already agreed with the EU, in order to push for something better. This, as Mike has pointed out, just shows the EU that we can’t be trusted. It’s weakened our position, and made such a disastrous Brexit even more likely. At the same time, it’s been estimated that a third of British farmers could go under in five years thanks to such a Brexit and the probable imposition of agricultural tariffs by the EU.

If Boris and the Tories, or at least his faction, are determined on a no-deal Brexit, because it will destroy British firms and farms, for the enrichment of the hedge funds, then they are guilty of economic sabotage.

In the Soviet Union, they’d be sent to the gulag for it. But as it stands, they’re supported by the British media, and so distort and spread lies blaming everyone but themselves, especially the EU.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/07/if-johnson-is-ready-to-renege-on-eu-withdrawal-agreement-whats-the-point-in-a-trade-deal/

I can’t remember where I read it, but one of the commenters on Mike’s blog also suggested that after Boris has done his job and wrecked our once great nation, he’ll take his money and flee abroad.

Which is what any number of truly horrific dictators have done throughout history. I’m thinking of people like Idi Amin, the butcher who ruled Uganda in the 1970s. After he was ousted he fled to Yemen or Jordan or somewhere, where he holed up very comfortably in a luxury hotel.

One of the problems with the developing world is that its dictators and ruling class loot their countries and peoples without putting anything back. They don’t spend the money they’ve stolen consuming any of their nations’ traditional products. They just hoard it abroad in Swiss bank accounts. Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a case in point.

And Boris and the Tories are doing something similar. Which means that what is said about these tyrants can be said about them:

The Tories are kleptocrats trying to turn Britain into a third world country!

If there are people, who count as ‘economic criminals’ who deserve to be thrown into a forced labour camp, it’s them.

Strike writing: on civility and solidarity [updated]

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 3:55am in

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writing, strikes

I wrote this in December 2019, facing a general election bogged down in Brexit, anti-Semitism, and dog-whistle politics; worn out by helplessness at the end of a year of political despair. The gains hard-won through our last industrial action seemed to be slipping away, our employers refusing to budge and the trustees of our pension funds treating us with contempt. We were furious. We took strike action for eight days and things changed. Talks restarted. We saw an apparent willingness to listen and heard sympathetic noises on matters that won’t cost too much or be easily tested. In the end, however, we have met with intransigence from our employers. We have made some progress, but not enough, and we are out on the pickets again. This time feels different: less anger, more quiet determination. It is difficult for all involved. I am genuinely distressed on the part of my students, who are suffering a severe interruption to their studies. I’m also persuaded by the argument that civility makes friends (thank you Dr Fergus Neville!) and we are standing on the picket lines with new comrades.

I took this post down for a while to reflect. But I see the very tactics that so provoked me played out on grander stages. In politics, for example, our Prime Minister urges us to be friends and unite Britian as he forces through the most divisive and hard-right political agenda in living memory. Be nice too easily means be quiet; civility remains a potent mechanism of control. We Brits are just too damn polite, overburdened by our bourgois heritage.

So here it is again in (nearly) all its intemperate rage

It’s Monday, noon. The morning has gone well: big turnouts on the picket lines, much solidarity from colleagues and students. In east Fife we stood in the fog and the dreich, and the bagpipes played; Stephen Gethins, our MP, turned up and wished us well and fussed my dogs, who are now staunch SNP hounds; our twitter is flooded with pictures of pickets and placards. The Second Great University Strike is underway. And now I’m home. It’s quiet, the dogs are sleeping off their exertions, and I am at my keyboard; I have things that I am trying to think through and, academic that I am, I do not know how else to do so. Strike writing.

The topic in hand is civility. Specifically, the repeated injunction from the institutions for which we work that we should approach this dispute in a ‘civil’ manner. At the risk of boring the reader, let’s recap for a moment why we are striking: a sustained assault upon our pension scheme, a significant real term drop in our salaries, inequalities of race and gender, casualization, temporary contracts, general workload and the accompanying audit practices. These are just the headline-grabbers that the union put on the ballot paper. Our profession is in tatters, with stress and overwork rife. Everywhere I hear that enough is enough, that something has snapped, that the social contract around higher education is not so much broken as in smithereens. Our employers’ refusal to negotiate has driven us to industrial action where we stand to lose eight days of salary in the run-up to Christmas. I am sure I am not alone in feeling pretty uncivil about this whole affair.

What then the justification for civility? It seems to me that we can parse the word in several ways. Let’s start with the most innocent. Managers in our institutions are understandably worried about keeping the wheels on the cart in the short term. After all, we will all be back at work next Thursday. If, with inflammatory words and intemperate behaviour, we torch the caravan completely (a metaphor, of course) it will be difficult to convene a faculty committee, let alone get students through the rest of their year. The call for civility is a bid to salve intra-institutional relations. But the strike is predicated on the fact that the wheels are coming off the cart anyway, if they haven’t already done so. It feels to many that the whole has been dragged along on its axles for a fair way already. If a colleague can’t participate in industrial action because they are on a short term contract and are worried about their visa, treating them cordially (as we certainly will) won’t do much to compensate for the institution’s structural inequalities.

I’ve noticed calls for civility coming from both sides of the dispute, and here’s a second sense of the word. Civility occupies a particular place in the lexicon of liberal discourse. It represents a Habermasian ideal, where deliberation is the political virtue-of-virtues, and civility forms a necessary part of its practical application. If we can’t be civil, we certainly can’t discuss. The problem is, of course, that the very possibility of democratic deliberation presupposes the existence of a set of institutions to support it. While Aristotle could rely upon his agora being there next Monday, we can’t be so sure; contemporary commentators point out that the political and economic climate of the last decade has corroded institutions to such a point that liberal thinking no longer makes sense. This looks increasingly true in our own corner of the world: civilised debate and scholarly engagement, fine virtues indeed, are predicated on the existence of the ‘University’ as an institution. We are striking because we believe that institution is itself under threat, if not already irretrievably damaged. It makes no sense, then, for us to hold ourselves to its norms, precisely when those who manage our institutions feel no need to play by the same rules. For evidence I offer the readiness of universities to use the law to close down protest, a course of action that is neither civil nor dialogic.

In this we see another parsing of civility, as a mechanism of control. The extensive literature of civility in political discourse (students reading take note – there is always a literature!) is quite aware of this aspect. Andrew Calebrese’s astute reading of the problem follows Weber and Elias in seeing ‘civility’ as part of the state’s monopolistic apparatus of force. It screens off the incivility and coercion that lie beneath disparities of wealth across the globe, and more recently at home. The civilizing process was – is – a project that seeks to naturalize unequal social relations, underpinned by the ‘symbolic violence’ of unjust conditions mutely accepted. From this perspective, it is civility (and the demand for civility) that is most toxic: ‘liberalism’s greatest pathology,’ Calabrese writes (p.540), ‘seems to lie in an article of faith, namely, a belief against all evidence to the contrary, that the ends of social justice are most effectively pursued through means of a shared commitment to certain formal procedures for negotiating our differences, however incommensurate these differences may be.’ In our world, this symbolic violence exists in the disparity of institutional power between we who are striking and our masters, such that a senior manager might – most civilly – threaten redundancies and closures, leaving us voiceless in reply. The vice chancellor who offered his support of staff in their right to peaceful protest let the cat out of the bag; while their protest must be limited to peaceful means, his reply need not be. Symbolically, at least, but this is exactly what old Bourdieu was on about.   

There is a further, fourth, reading of civil, one that locates its genesis in the birth of the modern market economy, among the bourgeois virtues of the eighteenth century. Civility signifies a set of virtues that belong to and underpin the market. The American economist Deirdre McCloskey’s famous essay, ‘Bourgeois Virtue’ (1994 and more recently a book), argues that the market inculcates its own virtues – that the necessity of repeated exchange and of satisfying customers in order to earn a living, demands the virtues of pleasantness, trustworthiness, and reliability. This is a good thing, she writes (p.181): ‘We happily take what the market gives – polite, accommodating, energetic, enterprising, risk taking, trustworthy people; not bad people’. The market civilizes us, not least because we must talk: civil dialogue is the basis of commercial exchange. Though some of her examples sit wrong twenty-five years later (‘Donald Trump offends. But for all the envy he has provoked, he is not a thief…Trump does good by doing well’. Truly, yes, see p.182) McCloskey drives home her argument: we are all bourgeois now. More recent contributions to the sociological analysis of markets agree that markets create moral worlds. They take a Durkheimian approach, recognizing morality as social fact constructed in specific group or institutional settings, but the upshot is the same. The virtues of civility are the virtues of the market.

I noted above that the backdrop to the strike is the marketization of our sector. It is reasonable to say, then, that the nascent market in higher education valorizes a kind of morality that McCloskey would find inherently civil: polite, accommodating, energetic, entrepreneurial, trustworthy, reliable. These are certainly the qualities that the NSS – another audit device – seeks to perform. It would seem also that injunctions for us to be civil are injunctions to adhere to such a moral code – and indeed, why not? Who wouldn’t want such a colleague?

Well, most of us. The market demands a particular
kind of agency. It is built on individual action, calculations of risk and
return, and freedom of choice. The calculating market agent would never strike.
The downside is tangible and concrete, while the upside is risky and unclear.
Far more sensible to free-ride, allowing others to bear the costs while
remaining guaranteed a share of any benefits. As for collective action, the
game of prisoners dilemma tells us that it is foolhardy, especially when its
outcomes are so uncertain. The market demands trust, but only in line with
contractual agreements, and these are what strikes violate; the market-savvy
employee knows it is best to work. Market relations are paid-for relations, the
stuff of emotional labour: the smile of the barista at six in the morning, or
the ‘how can I help you?’ of the shop assistant. McCloskey sees this latter as
a testament to bourgeois virtue, but we all know just how insincere those words
can be.

As Martin Nickson has recently and eloquently argued, university managers are in thrall to the dogmas sweeping business elsewhere. In fact, with their predilection for squeezed employees and weak contracts, universities increasingly resemble the very worst kind of business, and the entrepreneurial, accommodating, energetic, polite employee looks ever more like the downtrodden gig-worker. The competitive logic of the market has leaked into the institution: as entrepreneurial micro-firms, we lapse into an agonistic relationship with our colleagues, one made bearable only by insincerity. Moreover, markets are predicated on choice, and freedom to choose. When we are enjoined to be civil in our protests, we are being asked – often explicitly – to respect the choices of others. They may be self-interested, bourgeois choices that in many cases disadvantage a collective cause, but we are left with no vocabulary to express our dissatisfaction. Such matters are simply, well, regrettable. The injunction to be civil is one to play the market agent, to bite back our words and smile ‘How can I help you?’ as we outmanoeuvre our peers. It is a strategy of division and dominance, another mechanism of control.

What then for civility? McCloskey argues that we have two other options, the aristocratic virtues of the ancient Greeks, unfashionable after Ypres, or the plebeian virtues of St Paul, excoriated as slave morality by Nietzsche. We are all bourgeois now, she writes – smiling, courteous, entrepreneurial, insincere. That isn’t what I experienced on the picket lines, not this morning, or in March 2018. There was anger, freely and eloquently expressed, solidarity, integrity and care. There was laughter, there were bagpipes, and tomorrow, if we can remember the words, there might even be song. There was a feeling of participation and belonging. Frankly, it was most uncivil. Long may it last, and to my more civil colleagues: it’s not too late to lose your manners. Join us in the cold, the wet, and in solidarity.