Saturday, December 22, 2012

"What's Wrong With The Left?" Part 296

Andy Newman at Socialist Unity is worried :

"I think there is another underlying problem, in writing about what the left is doing,  because the left really isn’t doing much at the moment which engages with the political mainstream. I will write a longer and more considered article on this, but I am interested in what our readers think. Has the left lost its way?"
Well there's a surprise. What could the matter be, I wonder ? In a week when the statutory consultation period for large-scale redundancy has been reduced from 90 days to 45, and the Agricultural Wages Board ('which permits the fixing of minimum wage rates and terms and conditions for agricultural workers') has been abolished, all with hardly a ripple of opposition, what could a left-winger in the UK possibly find to worry about except US gun control and gay marriage ?

But if Andy doesn't understand what's going on, his commenters can fill him in :

Alan Gibbons : 

"The Tories have been relatively successful at slicing away at public services. There has been no ‘big bang’ provoking a generalised fightback... anti-welfare rhetoric has struck a nerve with some sections of the population. The second national anti-cuts march, while substantial, was smaller than the first...what worries me more, from the perspective of somebody involved as an independent activist in the fight against the cuts and particularly the campaign to save the public library service, is that the Left looks much older, greyer, divided and less confident ..."

You're telling me ... I think this post needs a link.

"The time of salami-slicing in public services seems to be coming to a close and whole areas of public spending may be axed, as shown by Newcastle’s withdrawal from the Arts. The assault on redundancy, the privatisation of the NHS, the proposed onslaught on the teaching unions and accelerating attacks on benefits show a weak government with a fragile mandate going ahead regardless with an offensive strategy."

A slight diversion here - I think some areas of public spending OUGHT to be axed. The dynamic of the last sixty years in local government is

a) central government puts statutory obligation on local government
b) gives them some money to fund it.

Until a local authority gets far more of its money from central government than from local taxation, and this is cancerous to local democracy, because you don't really get what you vote for. As a school governor, for example, I saw our Conservative local authority zealously implementing Labour's hideous "Every Child Matters" agenda, and wondered what the point of a Tory vote was. If central government want something done, they should do it themselves.

So anyway, I wouldn't mind if some of the legislative nagombi (how many diversity consultants) was dropped. Alas, this isn't going to happen any time soon. What's more likely is that the local authority (LA) staff will end up being outsourced to whichever company promises the LA that they can do the same stuff as the council did, with the staff having the same terms and conditions (except pensions - a not inconsiderable point, as LA pensions are index-linked final salary i.e. what you don't see in the private sector any more) - and all at 10-15% less cost ! I invite the reader to imagine at whose expense these savings will come.

I digress.

Nadia Chem - fine old English name, but she talks sense (though should that be "overestimated"?) :

"What has been missed is the reality that the working class might not have the confidence to resist such an offensive. The atrophy of working class organization at workplace and community level cannot be underestimated... the locus of the offensive has been as much in a general attack on living standards as in cuts. This has generated an enormous well of bitterness but little active resistance... the fact that this attack on living standards started under the Labour government from 2006 weakens Labour’s ability to grasp the bitterness."

Mr Newman himself :

"My experience of knocking doors for Labour, is that people are open to a traditional Labour message, but not with any real conviction that labour would be even different, let alone better."       

Trust the people, Andy.

"I fear that much of the left – including the so-called revolutionaries – have actually given up on social change"

I wouldn't say that. We've seen unprecedented social change, and will see more.

BrokenWindow :

"the Left is as atomised as the workers collectively are atrophied. Underpinning this is an absence or failure to theoretically engage in wider debates about globalisation and nation states... most of all it must re-engage with the people it hates the most,the young working class white men and women who have gone to the right."

So there are plenty of people who can see that there's a problem. But in 175-odd comments, no one seems to really know why they're up the Swanee.

"the best thing we could do for the cause is to recruit more people to unions/help install a sense of discipline/participate in community campaigns and start working where people are rather than where we want them to be." 

Of course ! Like good old  Boxer in Animal Farm, "I must work harder" ! If only we were better socialists...

Laban dropped into the comments a quote from the anthropologist Peter Frost (of 'Fair Women, Dark Men') :

"In late capitalism, the elites are no longer restrained by ties of national identity and are thus freer to enrich themselves at the expense of their host society. This clash of interests lies at the heart of the globalist project: on the one hand, jobs are outsourced to low-wage countries; on the other, low-wage labor is insourced for jobs that cannot be relocated, such as in the construction and service industries.

This two-way movement redistributes wealth from owners of labor to owners of capital. Business people benefit from access to lower-paid workers and weaker labor and environmental standards. Working people are meanwhile thrown into competition with these other workers. As a result, the top 10% of society is pulling farther and farther ahead of everyone else, and this trend is taking place throughout the developed world. The rich are getting richer … not by making a better product but by making the same product with cheaper and less troublesome inputs of labor."

I think Mr Frost describes it pretty well. The UK business elite in 1940, as noted in Harold Nicolson's diaries, were prepared to go down in flames rather than see Hitler triumph. But now ... even "conservatives" like Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine* "are no longer restrained by ties of national identity", let alone businessmen who've seen their incomes soar, both absolutely and relatively. This is why the end of the journey will soon be in sight.
Anyway, Andy (or his gofer, I know not) deleted the post in about minutes one. They don't want to know, and that's why they'll continue to get shafted - along with the rest of us.

Andy is at this moment involved in  an industrial dispute between Carillion, an outsourcer, and their many Asian employees - mostly Goan Catholics and I'm sure good people (the details of the dispute make depressing reading - looks like third-world petty corruption is already here).

But you do have to wonder why people from half way round the world are needed to clean Swindon's hospital - especially as Swindon is a place where there are 30 applications for every vacancy in Next.

The answer to Andy's questions are literally staring him in the face - but there's none so blind as those who will not see.


* Heseltine gave a famous Spectator interview where, asked if he was worried about Britain being merged into a Greater Europe, replied "who now remembers the Heptarchy (the seven kingdoms of Saxon England)?"