Interview with Kim Moody: the myths of a workerless future

August 7, 2016 at 9:45 pm (capitalism, economics, posted by JD, unions, United States, workers)

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Despite all the “gig economy” hype, Kim Moody argues, most workers are experiencing the rise of the crappy-job economy. But just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing. Photo: Nick Saltmarsh (CC BY 2.0)

From the US rank-and-file trade union magazine and website Labor Notes

Where’s our economy headed? Soon every factory worker will have to start driving for Uber, and the trucks will drive themselves—at least so the business press tells us.

But Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor, paints a different picture. Chris Brooks asked him to cut through the hype and describe what’s coming for working people and the opportunities for unions.

This is Part 1 of our interview with Kim Moody. Watch for Part 2, coming next week. —Eds.

Labor Notes: We read a lot about the “gig economy,” where workers cycle through multiple jobs using app-based companies like Uber, TaskRabbit [for everyday tasks such as cleaning or moving], and Mechanical Turk [for online tasks such as labeling images]. Is this really the future of work?

Kim Moody: One thing to notice is that, aside from outfits like Uber, most of these are not employers. They’re digital platforms where you can find a job.

The apps are not determining the hours and pay, or even the technology used on the jobs. It’s still employers that are calling the shots. So if jobs are getting worse, it’s not because people can find them digitally as opposed to reading them in the newspaper.

Also, discussions of the gig economy often assume that suddenly there are all these people who are multiple job-holders. But the fact is that the proportion of the workforce who have more than one job hasn’t changed much in 40 years.

The vast majority of them are people with regular full-time jobs who are also moonlighting, which is a very old thing. There are a lot of multiple job-holders, but there have always been a lot of them.

There’s also been talk of the “1099 economy.” Are we really moving towards a future where 40 percent of workers will be freelancing?

The idea that freelancers can become 40 percent of the workforce is science fiction.

There are two kinds of self-employed. The greatest number are the “unincorporated self-employed,” or independent contractors. Their numbers have been dropping for years.

The other group, the incorporated ones, are people who run a small business. They have grown somewhat, but they are still just 4 percent of the workforce.

You argue that the “gig economy” and “precarious work” concepts miss the mark because they don’t get at the most concerning change: the rise of the crappy-job economy. Can you talk about what’s changed for workers and why?

The first change is work intensification. Work has gotten dramatically harder in the last 30 years or so, and continues to.

That’s happened through lean production, which reduces the amount of labor to produce the same or greater amount of product or service and is tied to just-in-time production. Lean production began in the automobile industry in the 1980s, but now it is everywhere. It’s in hospitals, it’s in schools.

Another aspect is electronic and biometric monitoring, measuring, and surveillance, which allow employers to see how to get more work literally out of each minute. Another aspect is that the amount of break time has fallen dramatically since the ’80s.

Whether you are working full-time or part-time, in a precarious job or not, chances are you are going to experience some of this.

The other side is income. Wages have been falling since the early 1970s. More and more people are actually working for less, in real terms, than they used to. This also impacts everybody, although part-time and precarious workers are likely to get paid even less than full-time people.

And if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for the fastest-growing jobs, millions of new jobs over the next decade or so, 70 percent are projected to be low-skill, low-pay jobs.

In other words, we are not heading for some big high-tech economy. Instead we are heading for a low-paid workforce with crappy jobs. The end of good jobs is nigh.

While app-based “just-in-time” gigs have gotten lots of media attention, far less attention has been paid to “just-in-time” production. Can you talk about why massive logistics hubs have emerged, and what they mean for union organizing?

In order for globalization to be efficient, low pay isn’t necessarily enough, because you have to move products from one location to another. That required a change in the way products are moved—the “logistics revolution.”

The time it takes to deliver a product to the point of sale is an important factor in competition. Like production, transportation now operates on a just-in-time basis. Products move faster.

The speed of trucks, planes, and trains did not change. What did was the way things are processed. Goods don’t stay in warehouses very long. Products arrive on rail and are cross-docked and moved out by truck in a matter of hours. This process has really only taken shape in the 21st century.

In order to make it work, the industry has created logistics clusters. These are huge concentrations of warehouses where rail, truck, air, and water transportation meet and can be coordinated, usually electronically.

You might think, “Well, this is all very high-tech.” But it turns out that it still requires thousands and thousands of workers. In the U.S. there are 60 of these clusters, but three stand out: the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Los Angeles and Long Beach port area, and Chicago. Each of these employs, in a small geographic area, at least 100,000 people.

Now, the whole idea of outsourcing back in the 1980s was to break up the concentrations of workers in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Gary. But what these companies have done now, inadvertently, is to recruit incredibly massive concentrations of manual laborers.

It has evolved in a way that might shoot these companies in the foot—because here you have the potential to organize vast numbers of poorly paid workers into unions. And there are attempts to do just that.

The other thing is that these clusters are tied together by just-in-time systems—which means you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of points in the transportation system that are highly vulnerable. If you stop work in one place, you are going to close down huge areas.

Media commentators and even presidential candidates blame the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs on trade and outsourcing. You’re skeptical. How do you explain it?

Outsourcing, if it is in the U.S.—which most of it has been—can break up the union, it can be very inconvenient to the people who lose their jobs, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate jobs in the U.S. The jobs are just moved to a different, lower-paid group of workers.

Offshoring is another thing, but it’s not as widespread as people think. While moving production abroad has definitely impacted certain industries like steel, textile, and clothing, it cannot account for the loss of jobs we have seen. I estimate that between a million and 2 million jobs have been lost since the mid-’80s to imports and offshoring.

Manufacturing output, from the 1960s to just before the Great Recession in 2007, actually grew by 131 percent; the manufacturing sector more than doubled its output. If everything was going abroad, you couldn’t possibly have that kind of growth.

How can this be? I believe the answer lies in lean production and new technology, as we talked about earlier. Productivity literally doubled, and manufacturing jobs dropped by 50 percent or more. It’s the productivity increase that explains the loss of jobs.

It is very difficult for politicians to deal with this question, because it means attacking employers. It means saying, “You are taking too much out of your workforce.” And of course since most economists, politicians, and experts think that productivity growth is a wonderful thing, it’s beyond criticism.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about the future of automation. Former Service Employees President Andy Stern has been making the media rounds claiming that driverless trucks are going to replace millions of drivers.

You can sell a lot of books with this pop futurology. It reminds me of the great automation scare of the 1950s. It was popular then to make predictions that there wouldn’t be any factory workers left.

And automation has reduced the number of factory workers, but there are still 8 or 9 million of them lingering around—despite all this technology, which is much greater than anything they predicted in the ’50s.

I have a shelf of books predicting “the end of work.” And yet we have millions more workers than we used to—the problem being that they are worse off than they used to be, not that they don’t exist.

There’s more! We also asked Kim Moody about workforce demographics and outsourcing to the South. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Read more: Everyone in this auto parts plant was a temp—until they all joined the union and threatened to strike.

Read more: The Cargo Chain is a beautiful poster/pamphlet that maps out how ship hands, longshoremen, truck drivers, railroad operators, and warehouse workers move goods across North America.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #449, August 2016. Don’t miss an issue, subscribe today.

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Corbynomics – a friendly critique

July 27, 2016 at 7:37 pm (AWL, banks, capitalism, economics, labour party, left, posted by JD)

Based on a pamphlet from the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

There is a buzz about “Corbynomics”. That’s positive. For the first time in ages the neo-liberal economic orthodoxies insisted on by the Blairite Labour Party are up for debate and discussion.

What Corbynomics means, though, isn’t clear yet. It remains to be defined, not just in detail but even in broad outline. The left should plunge into the debate – and be bold.

There is a problem about the lack of left-wing Labour economic policy for Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to draw on. On ssues like the NHS, say, or renationalising the railways and Royal Mail, there is policy and they should do more to promote it – a lot more. On wider economic policy,there is more of a vacuum on the left, and a need for socialist ideas to fill it. But some of what Corbyn has said points in the wrong direction.

So, for instance, in the steel crisis, Corbyn and McDonnell said that if no capitalist buyer for Tata’s plants was found, they would support nationalising them – but only in order to find a buyer, and then sell them off again! Why didn’t they take the opportunity to argue to nationalise steel permanently, safeguard jobs, workers’ terms and conditions and communities, and run things differently to produce what we need for social purposes, like building housing, public service and public transport infrastructure?

Fiscal responsibility?

In his speech on 11 March, John McDonnell talked about “fiscal responsibility” – presumably in order to buy space to attack George Osborne’s 16 March Budget cuts. But anxious promises that a future Labour government will balance current spending with current revenues – which Osborne had not done after six years as chancellor! – only feed the superstition that the economic problems since 2008 are due to the Blair and Brown governments overspending” on public services. They aren’t. The reason for the crash and the slump was giddy profiteering and speculating by the banks, not public spending.

Now, there is no special merit in a government increasing its debt burden. However, a rigid rule of balancing current spending with current revenues is foolish. As Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economics at Oxford University and an adviser to McDonnell, has pointed out, “the rule is likely to make the deficit much less of a shock absorber, and so lead to unnecessary volatility in taxes or spending”. Also, since raising taxes is politically difficult, often slower in effect, and involves running uphill in times of economic crises which reduce the tax base, the rule has a built-in bias towards panic “volatility” (cuts) in spending. McDonnell has long campaigned against cuts. It looks as if he was pushed into these statements by the conservative elements in the Labour leadership office – part of a more general problem.

Who are the “wealth creators”?

Probably also a reflection of that section of the Labour leadership office were McDonnell’s off-key statements about “the wealth creators”.

“The Labour party are the representatives of the wealth creators — the designers, the producers, the entrepreneurs, the workers on the shop floor.” He claimed that his policy “has been welcomed this morning by [people] right across the business sector, business leaders, entrepreneurs as well as trade unions. The wealth creators have welcomed it”.

According to Mike Savage, a researcher at the LSE, inherited loot is 70% of all household wealth in Britain today, and is rising towards 80% by 2050. One of the most booming industries in slump-ridden Britain is the rise of “family offices”, where financiers work fulltime on managing and conserving the wealth of rich families. “Wealth creator” is conservatives’ pet term for capitalists. In fact capitalists’ riches come from the exploitation of the real wealth creators, the wage working class – or from active exploitation done not by the capitalists, but by their parents and grandparents.

McDonnell added “the workers on the shop floor” atthe end of his list of “wealth creators”, and put“designers” (i.e. some particularly skilled workers) at the start of the list. But the idea that a good economic policy can be pursued in alliance with the whole “business sector” is false. It can only prepare the way for a collapse when the CBI and other bosses’ groups denounce left-wing policies from Corbyn and McDonnell, which they will.

Is a National Investment Bank a left-wing policy?

Similarly, the leadership has focused on the call for a “National Investment Bank”, a publicly-owned bank able to borrow more cheaply than commercial banks because of its government backing, and lending for infrastructure and industrial projects.

The model must be the KfW, the German state’s federal investment bank, set up under the Marshall Plan in the 1940s and still going strong. It’s a safe, conservative model, maybe useful as a capitalist technique, but in no way anti-capitalist or socialist. The current chair of the KFW Supervisory Board is German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Europe’s sternest austerity-hawk and central to the crushing of the anti-austerity rebellion in Greece.

There is nothing really socialist or even left-wing about the proposals for a Schäuble-bank in Britain. In fact it seems more like a way of avoiding a clear left policy about what to do about the banks.

Expropriate the banks!

Replacing capitalism with socialism requires public ownership, democratic and workers’ control and planning of the giant corporations and enterprises central to the economy. That is hardly even conceivable without an insurgent workers’ movement challenging the capitalist class on every level – which is what we must work for, rather than damping it down with appeals to “wealth creators”.

To even move in this direction requires transitional demands to campaign for. An obvious one to make central is public ownership and democratic control of the banks and high finance – a sector central to the economy’s functioning and to the economic chaos which has engulfed us over the last decade.

Banking should become a unified, democratically run public service providing banking, pensions and mortgages for everyone who needs them, and funds and resources for investment in public services and all areas of social need – instead of acting as an engine for devastating them while promoting inequality.

Public ownership of the banks has been official TUC policy since it was proposed by the Fire Brigades Union in 2012, but left dormant. We should fight to activate it, and make it active Labour policy too.

All this poses the question of what kind of Labour government we want. In place of an alternative capitalist administration, the left should set ourselves and shape our campaigning around the goal of a workers’ government, accountable to and drawing strength from the mass organisations of the labour movement, and willing and able to force through measures like expropriating the steel industry and the banks – and much more.

More
Motion for expropriation of the banks and a workers’ government, passed at Labour Representation Committee conference, 20 February 2016, here

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Philip Green: archetypal British capitalist

July 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm (capitalism, corruption, economics, posted by JD, reblogged)

By Phil Burton-Cartledge at All That Is Solid (first published 26 April 2016, and now even more relevant):

Philip GreenOn global capitalism in Lenin’s day, the Bolshevik leader had this to say: “Imperialism is an immense accumulation of money capital in a few countries … hence the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by “clipping coupons”, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness …” If only the money men of 21st century Britain remained excrescences on the economy, of directing their stooges to invest capital and growing fat off the labour and talent of others. At the risk of being wistful, this ideal-typical view of your average capitalist is long buried and have gone beyond mere uselessness. Drunk on their parasitism, they are oblivious to how their appetites are not just imperiling the health of the enterprises they gorge upon, but threaten to kill them outright.

The latest example is the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS), a venerable department store that has graced the high street for 88 years. Not that I ever went there, which I suppose is a microcosm of the predicament it finds itself in. Lately, not enough of anyone have come through its doors to buy outfits and lampshades. Yet the Darwinist cut and thrust of the retail market can only shoulder so much of the blame. The reason why BHS is looking down a barrel, and its 11,000-strong workforce face uncertain futures is in large measure down to its erstwhile proprietor, the fly-by-knight Sir Philip Green. Acquiring the struggling BHS for £200m in 2000, Green and his family shook the firm down for a billion quid. All the profits, all the wage squeezes, every saving that could be wrung from the business passed through head office en route to Tina Green’s capacious purse in Monaco. And when there was nothing left, Green offloaded BHS on his tax-dodging wife’s behalf for a quid. The new owners, a ragtag-and-bobtail outfit going by the name of Retail Acquisitions, failed to raise the cash BHS needed to start turning itself around.

It goes without saying that Green’s behaviour was grubby and disgusting, and he could face action from the pensions’ watchdog amid suggestions that the firm dodged its obligations (this would be on top of the pensions holidays many large firms took in the late 90s/early 00s, all with a nod from Gordon Brown). Seemingly aware he could be on the hook for something, Green has offered to stump up £80m toward the BHS pension fund’s half-a-billion deficit. I hope the sop is rejected and he gets rinsed.

As you can see, Green went well beyond the “coupon clipping”. His ownership and running of the brand suggests little if any interest in preserving the business for the long-term, of increasing products, introducing new lines, investing in new technology, and battling it out for market share. You know, the things Max Weber told us capitalists are supposed to do. If BHS was in difficulty 16 years ago, self-evidently a business that has a billion pounds sloshing around is a business that was not a basket case. Instead of treating BHS like a bile bear with the tap left on full for the Green durée, the monies could have been used to add value by expanding its range, aggressively marketing itself, and venturing properly into online retail. Instead, Sir Phil was to his host a tax-dodging, celeb-stalking, yacht-bothering tapeworm.

Ah, but he’s a one-off, a bad apple, yes? In the interests of fairness, BHS’s problems can’t all be laid at his door. The so-called death of the high street is the result of policies pursued over the last six years. The cost of living crisis (remember that?) was always more than a soundbite for millions of people. As meagre wage rises/freezes have bitten, people don’t have as much cash to splash, hence middlebrow stores like BHS were always going to face what the experts call a “challenging retail environment”. The second is the brash new competitor, Amazon, have got away with ripping off the Treasury. Without as much of a tax liability, they have built an infrastructure on the back of exhausting, low-paid work, which has given them an unfair competitive advantage. Having got caught dithering over steel, the Tories are not about to invite more scrutiny of their complicity in this situation. Which probably helps explain why Anna Soubry’s been very quick to discuss the issue in the House and dampen speculation about redundancies.

There’s a wider point. Green is the “cultural dominant” of what a capitalist looks like in 21st century Britain, the sort valorised, flattered, and admired by the City and its helpers. The pursuit of profit, of realising returns on investment, comes not from building things but of tearing them down. As David Harvey points out, global capital from the 1980s on snapped up sold off state infrastructure and coined it from the introduction of markets into public services. New markets were conquered, but these were provided by governments as they let capital swoop in and profit from institutions under their stewardship. Capitalism ate the infrastructure that sustained it. As Britain is the epicentre of global finance, we find here these necrotising social relationships have achieved their fullest expression: an economy whose GDP is dependent not on production, but the selling of houses between buy-to-let landlords, a state bent on selling off what’s left of the public domain to politically suitable bidders (one doesn’t have to be the highest, as the Garden Bridge fiasco demonstrates), and a financial industry that sucks in Britain’s best brains to design fiendishly complex but socially useless “products”, “packages”, “vehicles”, and “instruments”. Funny how the intangible has annexed the language of the concrete. In sum, the owners of capital have become dysfunctional and decadent from the standpoint of British capitalism itself.

Green is not a one-off. He’s archetypal.

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Brexit would mean free rein for capital

June 12, 2016 at 8:11 pm (economics, Europe, posted by JD, rights, Tory scum, UKIP, workers)

 Above: Thatcherite Patrick Minford

By Martin Thomas (also at the Workers Liberty website)

88% of six hundred economists surveyed for The Observer newspaper (29 May) reckon that Brexit would reduce economic growth in Britain.

Economists often get things wrong, and the gist of the economists’ opinion is that Brexit would disrupt the regular flows of the global capitalist economy, thus pushing down trade and investment into Britain.

Most enlightening is what the pro-Brexit minority of economists say. The “Economists for Brexit” group led by veteran Thatcherite Patrick Minford has produced a report.

As ardent free-market ideologues, they argue that a capitalist Britain outside the EU will do well because it will have fewer constraints on the rapacity of the free market.

They object to the EU because “the EU has pressed for social legislation (such as the 2003 Working Time Directive and the 2004 Gender Equality Directive) that adds to companies’ costs”.

Their list would probably also include the Agency Workers’ Directive, TUPE, and redundancy-payment laws.

They also object because “European governments have been more emphatic than the global average about the dangers of global warming” and so the EU has pushed Britain to “adopt the renewables agenda with greater zeal… Coal-fired power stations have been closed down, offshore wind farms built and so on…”

The Brexit campaigners disagree among themselves on what trade deals Britain should do on quitting the EU. The economists go for a radical option: “What other trade agreements do we need? My advice would be: none”. Not the Norwegian model, not the Swiss model, not the Canadian model, not even the Albanian model favoured by Michael Gove.

The pro-Brexit economists argue that Britain should scrap all barriers to imports, and seek nothing more than World Trade Organisation rules for its exports. In their calculations the benefit of cheaper imports outweighs the consequent job losses.

On immigration, the economists differ from the Ukip-minded majority of Brexit campaigners in that they want more non-EU immigration and less immigration from the EU.

There, spelled out clearly, is the second core Brexit argument after the basic Ukip “hate-migrants” case. It is an argument for Britain as an offshore, low-regulation, low-social-overheads, environmentally-reckless site for global capital.

Whether their scheme would “work” in its own terms is doubtful. That it represents the way Brexit points, socially and economically, is not.

The way to fight the neoliberal policies of the EU leadership is by starting from the limited integration across borders created by the EU, and working for cross-border solidarity around demands for social levelling-up, democracy, and more open borders.

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Brexit: a realistic scenario

June 11, 2016 at 11:15 am (economics, Europe, fascism, Guardian, posted by JD, Tory scum, UKIP)

Letter published in The Guardian 10/06/16:

 Boris Johnson speaks at a rally with Priti Patel and Michael Gove in Preston town centre on 1 June

Polly Toynbee is right (There is still time for hope – Brexiters can be persuaded, 7 June). Brexiters can be persuaded if they realise what British politics could be like after a vote to leave. Here’s a realistic scenario.

On 24 June Brexit begins. Cameron resigns. Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, Michael Gove becomes chancellor. With Ukip’s role over, Nigel Farage and company join the Tory party. Scotland leaves Britain. The rump gets a new name (as it can’t be called the UK) – KEWNI – and a new flag

Anti-democratic developments begun under the pre-Brexit government are extended. The Tories form KEWNI’s governments for decades to come. The post-EU economic shock is compounded by the structural problems derived from KEWNI’s dysfunctional capitalism (low productivity, weak innovation etc) and its semi-feudal state. Excluded from the European single market, KEWNI is forced closer to the US and China. Having no choice, it accepts a version of the TTIP with the US. Having shunned the EU’s collective sovereignty, it has no power to insist on safeguards. US companies begin to take over the NHS; Chinese companies, manufacturing and real estate.

Accelerated economic decline inevitably follows. The Johnson/Gove response is even more austerity. The xenophobia currently directed at EU migrants becomes directed inward – against people of colour. Inequality and poverty escalate and dispossessed KEWNIs mobilise in struggle. The government response is repression, both covert and overt. Gradually, KEWNI becomes dominated by an ultra-rightwing nationalism: a version of fascism with “gentlemanly” English characteristics.

Is this what Brexiters seek for our country?
Jeffrey Henderson
Professor of international development, University of Bristol

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Steel crisis: state aid, including nationalisation, is *not* prevented by the EU!

March 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm (economics, Europe, Jim D, reformism, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

As the UK’s steel industry faces extinction, the Tories prevaricate over what – if any- state aid they are willing to offer in order to save the Tata operations at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton (North Wales). At least 40,000 jobs are at stake.

Business minister Anna Soubry initially stated that the  government was willing to consider “everything possible” – including nationalisation – in order to save the Port Talbot plant. But now her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out nationalisation, arguing “if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Tata Steel have suggested that EU rules restricting state aid were to blame for its decision to sell the UK steel business – a claim that has been seized upon by campaigners for Brexit, including the supposedly “left wing” Morning Star, always willing to let the Tories off the hook by claiming (entirely falsely) that the British government “is banned by EU competition laws” from intervening to save the industry.

While it’s true that EU rules place some restrictions on using state aid to prop up industries, European governments with the political will have either turned a blind eye to the regulations or found ways round them. For instance, while the EU blocks support for “manufacturers in difficulties”, it allows national governments to nurture the “long term competitiveness and efficiency” of industry, and also to provide state funding to lessen the “social impact” of closures.

Even outright nationalisation is not barred by the EU: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted, in particular, by the anti-EU “left”.

In Italy the government took control of the Ilva steelworks last year to save 16,000 jobs. Then the firm was handed £74 million for “environmental improvements” – ie direct state aid.

Germany also provides aid to its regional governments on the understanding that steel produced in the country is used on any German building or engineering projects. Germany also operates the part-publicly-funded Gesellschaft, a research organisation that provides applied science for companies that would otherwise find the cost prohibitive.

In 2012 French president Hollande threatened to nationalise Arcelor Mittal steel’s operations in the Lorraine plateau in order to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 jobs. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about any EU state-aid rules. Ironically, Hollande’s threat was denounced by Boris Johnson – now a leading light of the Brexit campaign.

In a written answer to Labour Euro-MP Jude Kirton-Darling at the time of the Redcar steelworks closure last year, the European Commission confirmed that the UK Government could have given state aid to support the steelworks. Here are some of the ways that other EU governments have intervened to support their domestic steel industries, and other energy intensive industries. There are also examples of regional governments taking initiatives in Germany and Spain.

(Temporary) Renationalisation

In early 2015, the Italian Government temporarily renationalised the Ilva Steel works in Taranto, Southern Italy. The Italian government cited the unabated toxic emissions and very poor environmental standards, which had led to unusually high rates of cancer in the area around the plant. It is estimated that it will cost €1.8bn to make Ilva compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s standards. This decision is currently subject to a complaint from EUROFER (European steel industry association) under state aid rules.

Investment in strategic R&D facilities

The French government are providing state-aid to the ArcelorMittal plant at Florange, in France to support their ongoing R&D work, this follows on from a long running industrial dispute over the closing of two blast furnaces. This public support comes to a total of €20-50 million over 4 years, with a further 33 million been raised in public-private investment.

Support for energy efficiency/environmental technologies

In 2010, the European Commission accepted German state aid of €19.1 million for an energy-saving steel production project run by Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, a subsidiary of the Salzgitter AG group. The aid will allow Salzgitter to produce steel through an innovative production process, Direct Strip Casting (DSC), which consumes less energy than alternative processes. The aid is in line with EU guidelines on State aid for environmental objectives (see IP/08/80) because on balance, the positive effects for the environment largely outweigh potential distortions of competition.

Loan guarantees

In 2010, before the May elections (which saw a change in Government), the UK Labour government was willing to provide Sheffield steel producer Forgemasters with an £80m loan to develop new technologies as part of a supply chain for nuclear reactors. While ultimately the new government withdrew this offer, the reasoning for a change of heart was ideological and not related to European State-Aid rules.

Taking a public stake in a steel company

Following the sale of 20.5% of shares in ‘NLMK Belgium Sogepa Holdings SA’ for 91.1 million euros ($123 million), the Belgian public authorities have a shareholding in a new company producing steel which owns steel plants in Belgium, France and Italy. NBH employs about 1,000 people in Belgium, while the European division employs 2,530 people in total. The engagement of the Belgian public authorities has helped strengthen the commitment of the Russian group, and transformed the company carrying the steel business in public private joint venture with the financial support of the Walloon region.

Compensation for energy costs

A range of German Government industry policy interventions provide German industry as a whole, including its energy intensive industries, with a range of long established reliefs from energy and climate change-related duties, levies and taxes:

Over the period 2010-2012 Germany’s support for its EIIs were worth 26bn euros, or some 8bn euros (£6.4bn) a year (table 2).
Support covers thousands of firms. Unlike the UK package, support is not confined to specific sectors.
At company level, in Germany compensation is available for 90% (or in the case of larger and energy intense consumers, 100%) of electricity taxes.

In Sweden, the PFE programme aims to encourage, through incentives (reductions in the amount of energy taxes), energy-intensive industries to improve their energy efficiency. This is a long-term agreement involving the Swedish government, the energy-intensive industries and trade unions. The duration of this program is 5 years. 117 industrial companies are involved in this project (i.e. 250 plants). The Swedish Energy Agency monitors and controls the programme. The Programme Board, established in 2005, brings together representatives from government, business, trade unions and employers as well as research centers. Both with an advisory and regulatory purpose, the Board meets four times a year. After only two years of existence, more than 900 measures were implemented or underway. These measures cost the companies € 110 million but benefited from a rapid return on investment (two years on average). They have saved about 1 TWh per year of electricity, i.e. from 500 kT to 1 million tons of CO2, and a total of € 55 million. In 2010, it doubled its objectives.

Using the powers of the official receiver to support employment & attracting buyers for troubled plants

In November 2014, the Italian government agreed to sell Italy’s second-largest steelmaker Lucchini’s Piombino complex to family-owned Algerian conglomerate Cevital. Lucchini was previously owned by Russia’s Severstal but was declared insolvent in 2012 and placed into special administration. The company received two offers for its core assets in Piombino, one from Cevital and the other from India’s JSW Steel. The government administrator said the Cevital offer was more attractive as it foresaw full employment at Piombino. The Piombino complex employs about 2,000 people and can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood: Marxist who put class at the centre of her analysis

January 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm (Andrew Coates, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, democracy, economics, intellectuals, Marxism)

Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy:

Ellen Meiksins Wood, the wife of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, has died of cancer at the couple’s Ottawa home at the age of 73.

Reports 

She was a noted intellectual figure on the international left, whose studies of class, politics and political ideas influenced several generations of thinkers and activists.

Wood’s writings were thought-provoking and luminous.

She first came to a wide left audience with The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986). This was a collection of her intervention in debates, conducted through the pages of New Left Review, and the Socialist Register,  that took place in the wake of Eric Hobsbawm’s famous polemic, The Forward March of Labour halted? (Marxism Today 1978 – expanded in book form with replies from supporters and critics in 1981).

Many left intellectuals not only backed Hobsbawm’s view that the material importance of class institutions in shaping politics was declining with the drop in numbers in the industrial working class, but extended this to question the relationship between class and politics itself.

Post-Marxists began to argue that a plurality of ‘democratic struggles’ and social movements would replace the central place of the labour movement in politics. Some contrasted  ‘civil society’ a more complex and open site of democratic assembly to the alleged ‘monolithic’ vision of politics embodied in the traditional labour movement. In a diffuse way this was associated with the once fashionable idea that “a “post-modern” society dissolved reality in ‘simulacra’. Others claimed it  meant the end of “grand narratives” – or more bluntly, that the ideas of socialism and the Left was splintering so quickly that only a fragmented series of ‘critical’ responses were possible against neo-liberal regimes of ‘governance’.

Wood argued for the importance of class in shaping not just political interests but the potential constituency of  radical socialist politics. Fights over power were at the centre of Marxism and these were part and parcel with disputes over exploitation and the appropriation of the social surplus. The ‘new social movements’, the women’s movement, the rising ecological movement, campaigns for racial and sexual equality, were interlaced with class conflicts. Democracy could not be abstracted from these relations. To appeal, as writers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did, to the formation of a new hegemonic strategy based on  relations of “equivalence” between various democratic demands ignored the basic facts about class and power. Like her comrade Ralph Miliband Wood saw socialism as an effort to bring together people around the central issues of exploitation and oppression in democratic organisations that could shape politics. This had historically been the result of conscious action, and this kind of collective work was needed more than even against a very real and growing grand narrative – the reality of neo-liberal economics and government assaults on working people, and the unemployed – in building a new regime of capitalist accumulation.

In academic as well as left-wing activist  circles Wood became known for her “political Marxist” approach to history. This focused on the issue of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and social property relations.  The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 1992  was a summary of this approach. It was also directed against the views of Perry Anderson (Editor of New Left Review) and Tom Nairn (today best known for his Scottish nationalism). In the early days of the Second New Left they had asserted  that the so-called ‘archaic’ British state was a reflection of a an equally ‘pre-modern’ capitalism. They also claimed that the ‘supine’ bourgeoisie – who abdicated political rule to the ‘aristocracy’ (which they claimed continued to dominate UK politics in the early modern period) – had been mimicked by a “supine” working class. In later writings Anderson talked of the need for a new wave of democratic modernisation to bring the country into line with the ‘second’ bourgeois revolution of modernity.

Wood, by contrast, pointed out, had a developed capitalism, indeed it was the most ‘modern’ form of capitalism. Its state form was related to its early advance, and its allegedly old-fashioned trappings – from the Monarchy downwards – had not thwarted capitalist expansion but arisen in relation to needs of its own bourgeoisie. The labour movement had developed in struggle with these forces, not in deference to them.

On all the essential points present-day Britian was no more, no less, ‘modern’ than anywhere else in Europe or in any contemporary capitalist state. Indeed it was for long a template for bourgeois democracy. In particular Wood attacked the claims of Tom Nairn that in some fashion Ukania (his ‘funny’ word for the United Kingdom, modelled on the novelist (1880 – 1942) Robert Musil’s term for the Austro-Hungrian empire, Kakania – shit land) owed its economic difficulties to its constitution.  Economic problems  arose at root from the general contradictions of capitalist accumulation, in a specific form. The problems of British democracy were due to its capitalist character – it is hardly alone in having a Monarchy to begin with – not to the issues Nairn-Anderson dreamt up about its sonderweg.

More widely Wood is known as an advocate of a version of the ‘Brenner thesis’ (after Robert Brenner’s article, Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe”1978). The creation of market relations in British agriculture were considered to be the foundation of modern capitalism. The essential condition was separation from non-market access to the means of subsistence, the means of self-reproduction. Wood argued that it was the capitalist transformation of agriculture, followed by the rise of merchant class expanding these forms through international trade, created the ground of Western capitalism.  It was also responsible for the distinctive state forms that emerged in Britain.

In the Agrarian Origins of Capitalism (1998) Wood summarised her views,

The distinctive political centralization of the English state had material foundations and corollaries. First, already in the 16th century, England had an impressive network of roads and water transport that unified the nation to a degree unusual for the period. London, becoming disproportionately large in relation to other English towns and to the total population of England (and eventually the largest city in Europe), was also becoming the hub of a developing national market.

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous “extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in “extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for by their increasing “economic” powers.

Wood’s political stand was firmly within the Marxist ambit. In 1999 she stated (The Politics of Capitalism) ,

…all oppositional struggles—both day-to-day struggles to improve the conditions of life and work, and struggles for real social change—should be informed by one basic perception: that class struggle can’t, either by its presence or by its absence, eliminate the contradictions in the capitalist system, even though it can ultimately eliminate the system itself. This means struggling for every possible gain within capitalism, without falling into the hopeless trap of believing that the left can do a better job of managing capitalism. Managing capitalism is not the job of socialists, but, more particularly, it’s not a job that can be done at all.

The broader  focus on the links between capitalism and state forms continued in her study Empire of Capital (2003). This analysed how the “empire of capital” (rather than the vague ‘globalisation’ or the rhizome of Hardt and Negri’s  ‘Empire’) shapes the  modern world through “accumulation, commodification, profit maximization, and competition.”

Wood’s later works, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008) and Liberty & Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment  were ambitious attempts to narrate and analyse Western political thought in the light of class categories.

Wood had a profound influence on countless people.

She was a democratic Marxist, a feminist, a perceptive writer and a force for good.

Homage to her memory.

Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

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Paul Mason: ‘This Is A Coup’

December 20, 2015 at 8:22 pm (capitalism, democracy, economics, Europe, Greece, posted by JD)

From Social Europe:

Dear readers,

We would like to draw your attention to a new documentary #ThisIsACoup on the Greek Crisis by leading UK journalist Paul Mason. It is split into 4 episodes and free to watch (see videos below):

  Episode 1
Video
  Episode 2
Video
  Episode 3
Video
  #ThisIsACoup – Episode 4 – SURRENDER OR DIE
Video
There will be limited posting between now and the new year so the whole Social Europe team would like to take this opportunity to wish you, your family and your friends a happy Holiday Season and a great start to 2016.

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SNP’s model of independence “is broken beyond repair”

November 18, 2015 at 1:36 am (economics, populism, posted by JD, scotland, SNP, truth)

writes  a former adviser to Alex Salmond, Alex Bell:

images-6

The SNP’s model of independence is broken beyond repair. The party should either build a new one or stop offering it as an alternative to Tory cuts …

 

There is a strange moment in the TV coverage of the 2015 UK general election. Nicola Sturgeon is in a debate and a  member of the audience admits to liking the new SNP leader but not supporting independence. She asks if she should join the party. Sturgeon listens and answers in what seems like perfect modern politicalese – you are welcome, she says. The audience in the studio and at home are comforted by the generosity, the non-tribalism of Nicola. It seems like a perfect example of our political leaders mending fences after a divisive campaign.

Consider what actually happened in that exchange. The leader of a party whose first tenet is independence is asking a person who openly admits she doesn’t want independence not just to vote for her, but to join the party. She is saying, implying at least, that the SNP is for people who are for Scotland – and that alone. There is no prescription to sign up for independence – just sign up for the SNP and its success. (Watch from 0930 onwards)

This shift in the party’s purpose from independence to being ‘Scotland’s party’ is often read as a simple tactic. The leadership are disguising their main aim, sovereignty, until a referendum victory looks likely. In fact something else is at work. The SNP is shifting its emphasis because the leadership can find no way of achieving the core aim safely.

Cut Nicola and no doubt she still bleeds independence, but what she means by that is far less clear than before the referendum. The doubt arises because the campaign towards the 2014 vote, and the economic information since, has kicked the old model to death. The idea that you could have a Scotland with high public spending, low taxes, a stable economy and reasonable government debt was wishful a year ago – now it is deluded.

***************

A lesson of the referendum is that many arguments around independence are simply redundant. We can all agree you can have a nation of any size, governed in any way, seeking to do whatever it wants within the tolerance of the international community. Tranches of what occupied both sides up to September 2014 are simply distractions.

The only thing that matters in Scotland’s argument is this – what will be the likely economic health in the short to medium term, and what will that mean for government spending and borrowing? Dull, but it determines everything else.

2014 was an economic sweetspot for two reasons. It was a good year for oil, and it came after thirty good years. Thus the Scottish economy looked healthy and was able to boast that it had chipped in more to the UK treasury than it had got back over recent times.

That is not the same as being able to say the Scottish economy could afford British levels of spending, which was a significant plank of the Yes promise. That debatable point could be obscured by lots of noise, and the SNP is accomplished at shouting.

But Nicola Sturgeon knows the SNP is good at misdirection. The party’s success has been built on hard work and spin. Behind the scenes she isn’t gullible. It may work in public to rubbish claims by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that there is a gap between what Scots pay into government and what they get out in services, but only fools believe their own propaganda. The fact is a gap exists – Scotland does not earn enough to pay for its current level of spending.

Once you accept that, you acknowledge that the SNP’s model is broken. That model, as expressed in the White Paper and numerous speeches, is that it was possible to move from the UK to an independent Scotland and keep services at the same level, without either borrowing a lot more or raising taxes. It isn’t.

As sure as death and taxes, there will be an economic jolt in the road to independence. Scotland will have to pay to either increase borrowing, raise taxes or cut services to bridge the gap between revenue and spending. And that’s not the only bump.

The second shock to the system will be the cost of borrowing. A new state will inevitably attract higher borrowing costs. Thus the price of the debt we inherit from the UK will go up on independence day. There’s more.

The appeal of the SNP is that it resists austerity. It promised to reduce budgets by (fractionally) less during the 2015 election. In other words, it would borrow more. So on top of the higher cost of borrowing, you would have more borrowing to pay for. It doesn’t end there.

SNP fine print makes it crystal clear that it will not reverse the dastardly Tory cuts on independence. It will not reverse the privatisations or the anti-union legislation of Thatcher and nor will it repair the cuts of Cameron and Osborne. However, it does give the impression that, come sovereignty, it will restore things to what they were. Its central message in Westminster is that the state need not be dismantled. It is therefore reasonable to expect, voters certainly will, that spending goes up on independence. Which will add even further to borrowing.

However, Scotland may not be allowed to borrow that much. A currency Union, either Sterling or the Euro, would come with limits. A brand new currency may not be trusted by lenders. So taxes would have to go up to meet the spending gap and the extra money it takes to ‘repair’ the state.

But there is of course one more bump to overcome – the cost of transferring to an independent state in the first place. Recall all the problems associated with merging eight police forces into one and multiply this by a hundred. What price the transfer to sovereignty? £1 billion, maybe £2 billion.

Thus an economy which couldn’t afford existing spending will be hit by several significant new demands on the Treasury. Without a thorough, independent understanding of those additional charges, you can make no promises on what independence will be like. It is reasonable to assume that all these obstacles can be overcome, but it is stupid to deny they exist. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cripps: egalitarian hero or reformist sell-out?

November 9, 2015 at 2:33 pm (capitalism, economics, From the archives, Guardian, history, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, SWP)

Stafford Cripps 1947.jpg

Paul Mason, in today’s Graun:

“(Cripps’s 1948 economic programme) is a programme to make Corbynomics look positively Thatcherite by comparison. A rough modern equivalent would involve today’s government spending £61bn on food subsidies alone. Yet Cripps and his generation were cutting with the grain of history.”

But Tony Cliff wrote:


From Socialist Worker Review, No. 88, June 1986.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


In the 1930s Stafford Cripps became the most prominent spokesman for the far left of the Labour Party. His rhetoric was well to the left of Tony Benn’s in the 1980s. Yet in the 1945–51 Labour government he became ‘Mr Austerity’, congratulated by the Tories for his budgets. Tony Cliff looks at the career of Stafford Cripps.

HALF a century ago the left of the Labour Party was organised in the Socialist League. Its main leader was Stafford Cripps. His story is quite revealing of the weaknesses of the Labour left, not only in the 1930s, but also today.

Cripps was born into a very rich family and was educated at Winchester then at Oxford. His father was a Tory MP for some two decades, and then received a peerage to become Baron Parmoor. Stafford was not indifferent to his father’s political activities. One biographer writes: ‘Stafford took up the furtherance of his father’s cause as the Conservative candidate with all the ardour of a young man of drive and initiative.’

In 1913 he was called to the Bar, and a short time later was appointed Justice of the Peace. In 1927 he became King’s Counsel.

‘In the years from 1919 to 1926 Stafford Cripps had one other interest outside the law and the village of his adoption. He had become engaged in the affairs of the Church, and particularly in the affairs of the World Council of Churches.’

In 1924 when Ramsay MacDonald formed his first Labour government he hunted for talent outside the Labour Party, and got four Tories and Liberals to join his government: Lord Parmoor, Lord Haldane, Lord Chelmsford and H.P. Macmillan (later to become Lord Macmillan). ‘Macmillan, with the consent of the Conservative Party leaders, accepted the office from MacDonald on a non-political basis as a matter of public duty.’ In the 1929–31 Labour government Lord Parmoor served once again – as President of the Council and Labour’s leader in the House of Lords. (Stafford’s uncle, Sidney Webb, who became Lord Passfield, served as Secretary of State for the Colonies.)

As the 1929 general election approached Herbert Morrison tried to attract Stafford Cripps to the Labour Party. Morrison wrote to Stafford Cripps:

‘I am personally very anxious to have you in the Party. Please let me know if and when you would like to join the ranks of the Party and I shall be very happy to make the necessary arrangements.’

In May 1929 Cripps became a member of the Labour Party. Early in 1930 he became candidate for the West Woolwich division, and for the rest of that year he gave much time to that constituency. In October 1930 the Solicitor-General, Sir James Melville, resigned in ill health, and Ramsay MacDonald offered the position to Stafford Cripps. He at once accepted, though without a seat in Parliament. On the death of the Labour MP for East Bristol, Cripps was adopted as the Labour candidate and in January 1931 was duly elected.

In government Cripps did not evince any leftist tendencies. Quite the contrary. When he spoke on the 1927 Trades Disputes Act, imposed by the Tories after the defeat of the general strike, Cripps called not for its repeal, but only its amendment. Read the rest of this entry »

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