The Corbyn Party and the Working Class

September 18, 2016 at 5:23 pm (class, elections, Guest post, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Marxism, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, workers)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Len McCluskey

Above: McCluskey and Corbyn, the leaders of the two wings of our movement

By Johnny Lewis

Corbyn’s victory in 2015 and what by all accounts will be a victory by an even larger margin later this month is the second attempt to remake the Labour movement – the first being Blair’s. Both differ from Gaitskell or Bevin – their political ancestors, as they have arisen at a time of fundamental change to the structure of class in the UK and throughout the advanced  capitalist world.  The essential consequence of this change in the UK has been the unions’ inability to overcome the competition between workers: it is this which informed both Blair and Corbyn’s rise and informs what the Corbyn party should do.

Competition between workers 

From the 1870s, for about a century the manual working class formed an overwhelming majority, of the population, and workers’ were concentrated in ever larger workplaces. Both its size and cohesive character determined how the ruling class had to rule, gave rise to the modern unions and the Labour Party – the labour movement which Marxists, socialists and Stalinists engage with. The centre of gravity for this constellation was the unions, and although their economic power ebbed and flowed their potential to struggle against the employer remained a constant threat to capital.

For the last 40 years developments in the accumulation process, primarily through growth in productivity, alterations in the international division of labour and technical advances have reordered work both the type of work workers do and how they work. For the first time in history we have a working class in which manual workers constitute a minority, while large workplaces have declined in number with an attendant rise of SME’s, outsourcing, sub-contractors the ‘gig economy’ and under-employment.  Combined, these changes to work have cracked and fractured the cohesive character of the working class. It is no longer possible, as EP Thompson did, to view the working class as one where shared material conditions had enabled them to arrive at an understanding of their social position. Gone then is a working class commonality of shared experiences with a set of common markers and understandings which arose from lifestyles and communities rooted in similar experiences of work. Today we have something approaching the opposite, where it is quite possible to find Thompson’s working class but it does not share a singular experience of class: rather there are many radically different practical experiences amongst workers. This redrawing of class would be of little consequence if it had not triggered the political and ideological fragmentation of class. If anyone needs proof of this, they only need to look at the post-2015 election analysis and the prognosis for 2020: commentators universally consider Labour’s chances of winning as  bleak. Not only will they have to win 100 seats, but the voters they need to win back are highly differentiated between North, South, inner city and suburbia, and of course Scotland – all have a different view as to what Labour should represent.

Under the impact of this transformation of class, the unions and the Labour Party entered parallel processes of prolonged change punctuated by more or less acute crisis, this manifests itself as a loss of an authoritative and coherent working class voice to articulate its interests, and it could not be otherwise.

Both class fragmentation and the loss of a working class voice have a single source they are a direct consequence of the labour movement’s failure to control competition between workers. As the Communist Manifesto makes plain `…This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves’.

Competition between workers is a natural consequence of capitalism, meaning that workers and their organisations are always confronted with how to overcome it, and the answer is always the same: organisation. However accumulation shapes what and how workers produce, consequently it shapes the organising tasks workers face. While the accumulation process (eg mass production) prior to the 1970s tended to homogenise class, developments since have generated the opposite. Of course the growth in competition between workers is not simply a product of changes in the accumulation process: rather it has facilitated capital’s victories over labour which have, in their turn, enabled the institutionalisation of competition at the workplace by government and through the legal system.

The unions’ inability to win is due to their inability to organise new types of employment and in most cases to stop the race to the bottom of many traditional workers. This is not because they don’t want to win, they don’t know how to and neither does anyone else – at this moment in time.

For the first time since before the great wave of industrial militancy, which began with the new unionism; unions’ are unable to function as the backbone of the working class as they are unable to defend workers’ economically. The corollary is political activity now dominates over economic struggles a situation entirely contingent on the unions’ inability to end the competition between workers. We are then functioning within the template of a fragmented class / weak labour movement. While this predates the miners’ strike it became part of the movement’s DNA with their defeat.

This is the context in which Corbyn and Blair should be understood as twins of a sort, both owe their ascendency to the competition between workers and both propose a resolution to it – albeit diametrically opposed solutions. For Blair the weakness of the movement and class fragmentation provided the potential to bury the institutions of the labour movement and with it class politics, throwing us back into a reworked liberalism – and he nearly succeeded. Corbyn aspires to offer the opposite, however to do that the movement has to answer the question how can we practically end the competition between workers or to put it another way how can we organise to unite our class?

Parallel worlds

The primacy of political activity has come to dominate what the movement does and it is also the hallmark of a radical activism which has sprung up since the crisis – all to the good. Now political activism is de rigueur there is also a prevalent view of equivalence between different types of political activity But this is not the case. Campaigning activity, demos, social movements, cannot offer a governmental alternative, if for no other reason than they are not mass movements they fall into the category of pressure or protest groups. Labour movement politics are different in that they focus on their own internal political struggles which have taken us from Blair to Corbyn and the need for a governmental alternative to stem or stop competition between workers. A Labour government including a Blair government, offers limited protection from competition. Blair’s introduction of the minimum wage is an example, while Corbyn’s proposal for mandatory collective bargaining would to all intense and purposes end the competition between workers. There is then a substantial difference between protest and the parliamentary politics of the labour movement, and it is equally wrong to counterpose one to the other as it is to think they are equivalent both are essential elements in any working class strategy.

Although political radicals and the far-left have got Corbyn (after a fashion), they spent the last two decades, particularly since the crash and until Corbyn’s victory, demanding a New Party (NP) and in effect calling for an alternative labour movement: the crassest examples being the Socialist Party (SP) and the SWP.

At bottom they rejected the reality of a fragmented class / weak movement template – a rejection which pushed them away from a class based politics towards a political radicalism. The most direct outcome was to detach them from the movement’s norms and rhythms and most importantly the political struggle by which it began to reform itself. The core justification for a NP was the notion that Labour was unreformable. This was always the propaganda of misdirection as the Blairites’ success was predicated on the support (active and passive) of the unions. However pusillanimous one may wish to paint the union leaders and however guileful the Blairites were, this was a matter of power – and the powerlessness of the unions decimated by relentless numerical decline and the collapse of their economic muscle. Any cursory understanding of the labour movement brings you back to this underlying problem of the weakness of the unions.

Those of us who insisted Blair’s project could be rolled back based our view on two propositions. First the dynamic which had propelled the unions to form the Labour party was, in the face of the anti-union laws (and the collapse of collective bargaining) reasserting itself. Unions need a political party to enable, what the Webbs called ‘legal enactment’ to counteract the decline of collective bargaining and legal constraints on the unions. This need and the Blairites’ unwillingness to countenance it, provided a potential for a fight-back within the party. The second factor was the CLPs. Historically party members have time and again shown an ability to form a left wing and struggle over control of the party. In spite of being hollowed out by wars and marginalised by party ‘reforms’, by 2010 the members were ready for change. Yet experience showed that outside support for the CLPD they were unwilling to organise, nor were the unions individually or collectively (with the partial exception of Unite) willing to push for change within the Party.

There was then a stalemate – which existed since at least 2010 – between a Labour movement, large parts of which wanted or needed to move beyond Blair’s party, and on the other hand the party machine and the MPs. With Miliband’s resignation those in the Party who understood it was essential for an anti-austerity candidate to beat Kendal got Corbyn onto the ballot paper by the skin of their teeth. As soon as he was nominated he became a conduit for those politicised to the left by the crisis and his victory showed in a starker manner than anyone believed possible, the mismatch between Blair’s party machine and the CLPs and associate members.

The significance of the leadership ballot remains, lost on the majority of NP advocates: they focus on the element of luck which saw Corbyn get nominated and on the potential of the Corbynistas. As in any endeavour one needs luck but such an argument obscures the activity of the many activists arguing with MP’s to nominate him and then organising and running his campaign. While focusing on the Corbynistas obscures the fact that the centre of gravity was the constituencies who threw off the dead hand of the party machine and reasserted control over the party – the act of a movement rather than a sect and which would be equally significant even if Corbyn had lost. We have witnessed a readjustment from below – something many Marxist did not believe possible and for sure played no part in – their absence highlighting the absurdity of the politics of the ‘alternative party’.

The rejection of the ‘template’ I have described (ie: of fragmented class / weak movement) also meant the rejection of the terrain and tempo of struggle it necessitated and the boundaries it imposed on the class struggle. These boundaries were replaced with the assertion (liberally peppered with bombast – listen to any SP or SWP speaker) of the alternative made possible by an act of will if only enough effort was expended. However much they asserted themselves it was not possible to break free of the constraints imposed by ‘the state of the class’ – if they could we would be living in a radically different political landscape.

This attempt to ‘jump over’ the fragmented class had the consequence of turning its advocates into the very opposite of what a Marxist organisation should aspire to be. Time and again ideas were overextend to the point of becoming irrational, illustrated by the assertion during the general election that there was little or no difference between Labour and the Tories and, yes, they (eg the SP’s front organisation TUSC) were a serious alternative to Labour. It was noticeable that the organisations supporting this perspective became increasingly illiberal and quixotic; guided by a hugely inflated self-image (the small propaganda group as the Party) chasing an imagined working class, they attempt to make history `under self-selected circumstances’, we have over the last decade or so been witness to a reprise of Third Period Stalinism as farce.

It seems highly unlikely they will reorient to see themselves as a tendency whose main task is one of contributing to the `organisation of the proletarians into a class’, instead they will, in all likelihood, recalibrate their alternative labour movement to run through the Labour Party. We will bear witness to politics as an historical reenactment society preforming the French turn with Corbyn in the role of Blum and the Party’s left as the ILP.

Although Corbyn’s victory has shifted the terrain and tempo of what is possible the fundamental constraints of a fragmented class remain intact. However it is inconceivable we will not see further attempts to `jump over’ the fragmented class not just by some Marxists but also from the influx of radicals buoyed up by Corbyn’s victory. For those who see class as central our question is how we practically organise class and this can only be done by linking existing struggles and anti-Tory campaigns to winning the working class to vote Labour. Read the rest of this entry »

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Matt Wrack: make the bosses pay for Brexit

September 13, 2016 at 9:42 am (class, Europe, internationalism, left, posted by JD, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching in Essex against job cuts in 2012

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching against job cuts in 2012 (Pic: Kelvin Williams)

By Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (This article appeared in yesterday’s Morning Star, but in view of comrade Wrack’s description of Brexit as a “victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists” is clearly at variance with that paper’s pro-Brexit ‘line’).


TUC Congress convenes at an absolutely pivotal time for the labour movement and for firefighters — and the motions tabled by the Fire Brigades Union are intended to reflect that.

The new political situation in Britain is defined by the decision to leave the European Union (EU). The FBU advocated a vote to Remain. Although the EU is a neoliberal bosses’ club, some forget the key role of British governments in driving the neoliberal agenda within Europe.

Austerity in Britain is driven from Westminster, not from Brussels. Europe also provides a common terrain for workers’ solidarity and workers’ rights across the continent.

The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.

Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.

The FBU’s motion is clear that the trade union movement should not blame working-class people for the consequences of Brexit.

We don’t blame workers who voted to leave. We don’t blame migrant workers, they deserve solidarity.

We know two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. We don’t blame the labour movement or the TUC — we fought a good campaign to remain and we were right to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn was not to blame for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned from day one to remain in the EU. He was right to advocate Remain while articulating criticisms of the EU. He held scores of meetings and events. He was correct to avoid collaboration with David Cameron and the Tories.

Who do we blame? We blame the Tories. They decided on the referendum. They set the question. They set the timing. It was mostly Tory politicians who fought it out in public. It was mostly Tory voters who voted to leave. They created the mess we’re in. We need to pin the blame for the consequences on them. Every job loss, every cut, every dodgy trade deal, every attack — is their fault. Every example of economic and political turmoil needs to be laid at their door.

The TUC and unions are right to say workers should not pay for Brexit (workers have paid for the economic downturn in countless ways since 2008). But that is not enough. The labour movement has to say who will pay for Brexit. The answer is that the bosses will have to pay.

The wealthy, the ruling class — they have to pay. The money is there — in the banks, in property, in the wealth of the ultra rich — the new Duke of Westminster, Mike Ashley and Philip Green. The government should tax them for what is necessary and by whatever means are necessary.

It follows on from who’s to blame and who should pay, that the labour movement cannot support a partnership approach on Brexit.

In my view, it was wrong for former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to sign a joint letter with Cameron during the referendum campaign.

We are not all in this together. It is not the job of the trade union movement to act as the tail of British business. It is not our job to accept deals that worsen the conditions of our members so that Brexit can be managed.

The labour movement needs to make itself a factor in the Brexit process. We do that by mobilising our members as active forces capable of shaping our own destiny.

We need to strengthen our links with workers across the world, including within the EU. We will stand in solidarity with migrant workers wherever they are. We need to hit the streets and make our voices heard. We need to speak clearly and act in determined defence of working-class interests.

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Junior doctors strike FAQs

September 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm (health service, posted by JD, unions, workers)

By Dr Pete Campbell (at A Healthy Blog)

Why are junior doctors going on strike?

  • A contract which ACAS, the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health agreed would be put to a referendum of junior doctors and medical students is being imposed upon them in October. Despite them rejecting the contract.
  • This contract is worse for less than full time trainees, which means it discriminates against women, those with disabilities and carers.
  • They still do not believe they have adequate protections for whistleblowing or hours safety through the guardian role in this new contract.
  • This contract will make it harder to recruit into specialities such as Emergency Medicine, Acute Medicine and Paediatrics.
  • Lots of other reasons related to the contract around issues such as non-resident on calls, locum arrangements, removal of annual pay progression,

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What do they want?

  • The Government not to impose a contract on junior doctors it agreed to put to a referendum.
  • To return to negotiations starting with the ‘heads of terms.’ This is where ‘7 day services’ and the Government’s manifesto pledge should be discussed. Not brought into negotiations half way through.
  • A contract which doesn’t discriminate against protected groups, values their work and promotes the recruitment and retention of doctors.

Why won’t the Government agree to this and why are negotiations not continuing?

  • Because they are more interested in a political victory than a safe and secure health service.

jeremy hunt_1.jpg

Isn’t 5 days of strike action extreme?

  • This Government is prepared to impose a contract rejected by 6 out of 10 doctors. It has refused to talk about any alternative. The BMA Junior Doctors Committee feel they have no other options left.

Will this industrial action be safe for patients?

  • There is a clear escalation procedure between NHS England and the BMA. If patient safety is threatened then junior doctors will be called back to work.

Didn’t the BMA agree to this contract?

  • No: the Junior Doctors Committee agreed to try and find a negotiated contract and put that negotiated contract to a referendum of junior doctors.
  • 58% of Junior doctors and medical student members of the BMA rejected this contract. A bigger mandate than for Brexit.

What can I do to support junior doctors?

  • Write to your MP and ask them to call on the Government to halt imposition.
  • Join junior doctors on the picket line and at their events. Full details will appear here: oneprofession.bma.org.uk
  • Get involved in the local campaigns around the future of the NHS.
  • Don’t believe the right wing media spin. Talk to junior doctors themselves about the issues.

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Support the junior doctors!

September 2, 2016 at 7:35 am (health service, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

We have received this message from a junior doctor:

Junior Doctors have announced a week of strike action starting 12th September, with further strike action called in October, November and December.

Current plans are for 8-5 full walkouts of all junior doctors. Aim is to prevent imposition of this contract and return to negotiations about the ‘heads of terms’ of future negotiations. It is a plan to halt the government’s attempts to bleed NHS staff dry through demanding 7 days resources from 5 days of services.

It is an incredibly bold plan, which has understandably been greeted by outrage from the right and nervousness from many.

Please be as publicly supportive of junior doctors as you can be. Please engage with prominent voices in your areas and ask them to be publicly supportive of junior doctors.

We are going to need all the help we can get.

Updates here: http://oneprofession.bma.org.uk/

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Interview with Kim Moody, part 2: labour’s new sources of leaverage

August 17, 2016 at 12:14 am (class, internationalism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

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We continue with this important interview with Kim Moody, on the prospects for the class struggle. Part 1 can be read here.

From Labor Notes:

Where’s our economy headed? This is part two of our interview with Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor.

Despite the hype about the “gig economy,” Moody argued in Part 1 that the bigger change most workers are experiencing is the rise of the crappy-job economy. On the bright side, he pointed out how just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing.

In Part 2, we ask Moody about corporate mergers, the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and what it will take to organize the South:

Labor Notes: Increased competition between corporations has led to massive mergers. What has been the impact on workers?

Kim Moody: It’s in the mid-’90s that this new mergers and acquisitions wave took hold. It was fundamentally different from the big mergers and acquisitions waves of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Those mostly were about conglomeration—companies buying up all different kinds of production, finance, and everything you can get your hands on. Diversification would be another word for it.

The mergers of the mid-’90s forward have gone in the opposite direction. More companies are shedding unrelated divisions. For example, General Electric and General Motors used to have huge financial divisions and they dumped those, even though they were moneymakers.

All these major industries have seen mergers that are creating bigger employers. In some industries the concentrations are huge. If you look at trucking, UPS is this massive employer that it wasn’t 20 years ago. UPS is in every field of logistics—not just in delivery or even in trucking, but also in air freight.

So companies are buying up things that are in their basic core competencies. The structure of ownership has been realigned in a way similar to the first half of the 20th century, when unions, including the CIO, organized these big corporations.

This concentration of ownership along industrial lines means that there are more economically rational structures now in which unions can organize.

So you would no longer see a situation where the union strikes one division but the company has plenty of unrelated divisions that are still making profits.

Right. And when you put that together with the logistics revolution, you begin to get a picture of what I’m calling “the new terrain of class conflict.”

We are dealing with production systems, of both goods and services, that are far more tightly integrated than they used to be, and companies that are bigger, more capital-intensive, and more economically rational.

So unions should be able to take advantage of the vulnerable points in just-in-time logistics and production to bring some of these new giants to heel. The old idea of industrial unionism might have a new lease on life if—and it is a big if—the unions can take advantage of this situation.

My view is that this is going to have to come from the grassroots of the labor movement. Or those who today are not organized, like the people in warehouses. There is a potential that really hasn’t existed in well over half a century.

The consolidation of industry and the whole logistics revolution: these things have only come together in the last 10 or 15 years. When workers and unions in these industries—and many of these industries have unions in pieces of them—look at this situation, it’s something they’re not used to yet.

It usually takes a generation for the workforce to realize the power that it has, and the points of vulnerability. This was the case when mass production developed in the early 20th century. It took pretty close to a generation before the upheaval of the ‘30s.

Another important change has been in the demographics of the working class. Can you talk about what those changes mean?

This bears not only on unions but on American politics. An obvious change that has taken place in pretty much the same period—the ’80s up until now—and will continue on is the change in the racial and ethnic composition of the entire population, but particularly concentrated in the working class.

For example, if you look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “transportation and material moving” occupations in the ’80s, maybe 15 percent of those workers were either African American, Latino, or perhaps Asian. Today it is 40 percent.

Workers of color now compose a much bigger proportion of the workforce, much of it due to immigration. The biggest growth, of course, is among Latino workers. Workers of color are now between 30 and 40 percent of union membership.

It seems the right is making its own hay out of the changing demographics of the country.

This is happening everywhere in the West. It is much easier to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs or housing or crowded schools than it is to figure out how to deal with the powers that be.

So a lot of people turn towards these self-defeating ideas that they can solve their problems by closing off borders and sending people back, or by keeping Muslims out.

We have the potential to have a phenomenally different kind of labor movement. It is going to be different from anything we have ever seen in the United States, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. That is, if we have a multicultural, multiracial labor movement that is larger and is growing and is taking advantage of the new terrain that we just talked about.

A common tactic used by business is whipsawing workers against one another, using non-union areas of the country against union-dense areas. I am thinking of Boeing and South Carolina. Boeing got from Washington State the largest subsidy ever given to a company in the United States. And yet they still sent all those jobs to South Carolina, which also provided them with massive subsidies. How much of a hindrance has the inability to organize the South been for labor?

The answer is massive. This goes all the way back to the end of the Second World War, and the amount of manufacturing value-added that was produced in the South just grew until the ’80s.

The amount produced in the South continues to grow a little, but it has more or less leveled off. I have some ideas why.

If you look at the auto parts industry, for example, in the last 10 or 15 years it has dramatically reorganized, one of the most dramatic reorganizations of any industry that I have seen. You have many fewer companies, and those that remain have gotten bigger.

The bulk of them are in the Midwest and not in the South. A huge percentage of them are actually in Michigan. Of course, they are nonunion.

So I am not saying that the South is not important. You won’t crack manufacturing until the South is unionized. These big corporations do whipsaw. But given the new structure of these industries and the logistics revolution, there is a possibility of counter-whipsawing.

Say you have a union drive at a South Carolina plant and you want to cut off production there, to force management to recognize the union. My guess is that you can find suppliers, if they are unionized or can be unionized, whether they are in the South or Midwest, that can strike and close down that plant.

Given the rise of these tight new logistics systems, unions can counter-whipsaw by closing down suppliers or even the transport links, and thereby starve management at these Southern plants into submission. That would require the cooperation of many different unions—but they have to begin thinking about that if they are ever going to organize the South.

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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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Turkish union leader calls for democracy, secularism and peace

July 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm (democracy, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, secularism, solidarity, turkey, unions)

kani beko

Statement from DİSK Chair Kani Beko on the state of emergency declared in Turkey

The solution is democratization, not a state of emergency!

In the wake of the 15 July coup attempt, a three-month state of emergency was declared all over Turkey in accordance with “suggestions” from the National Security Council.

Declaring a state of emergency following a coup attempt that aimed to completely suspend democracy will solve none of the country’s problems but only serve to realize the system of governance envisioned by the coup plotters.

Turkey is being subjected to a nationwide state of emergency for the first time since the 12 September 1980 coup. Occasional states of emergency were implemented on a regional basis until 2002, but they were synonymous with extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances in custody and torture.

For those who proffer that “it won’t be like that this time,” just one look at their record under “ordinary” legal circumstances provides warning as to the grave new threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

From the government’s pun on the 1980-era catch phrase “Should we feed them instead of hanging them?” in support of capital punishment to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, all the signals indicate that the government is not responding to the coup attempt in accordance with “democracy” and universal values.

Let no one forget that the coup plotters bombed the country’s parliament. The decision to sideline the Turkish Grand National Assembly – which had provided a very pointed reply to the coup plotters’ attacks – cannot be explained with “democracy;” the only term appropriate is a “counter coup.”

It is also clear that workers’ rights are severely threatened by the state of emergency. In an atmosphere in which the quest for all manners of rights has been prohibited, the rights that workers have won could be stripped away without even a cursory hearing in Parliament’s General Assembly.

From the theft of the right to severance to the obligatory individual retirement system, the government will be able to impoverish workers and reduce their employment security without encountering any resistance from workers’ struggles, the courts or the parliamentary opposition. It will be possible to convert the state of emergency into a state of unprecedented exploitation for capital.

One cannot categorize an authoritarian system of governance devoid of any legal foundation as a “struggle against coups” with the legal window dressing of a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to pick from the least worst of a perfidious bunch of coup plotters and dictators.

Turkey does not need torture, capital punishment and a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to see its parliament effectively sidelined.

All these violations are part of the aims and goals of civilian and military coups.

What Turkey needs is democracy, secularism and peace and for all of its people to create a country in which all can freely practice their beliefs, express their thoughts and live in dignity.

With its demands in favor of labor, peace, democracy and secularism, DİSK has always stood against all coups and all attempts to impose a dictatorship, and will do so once more against the new state of emergency.

(H/t: Labourstart)

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Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism

July 13, 2016 at 8:38 am (class, Johnny Lewis, Marxism, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:

The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.

For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.

Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.

With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.

The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.

Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.

The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.

Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.

If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.

That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.

The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:

“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”

We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.

Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.

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McCluskey: Labour plotters “will be branded forever with the mark of infamy”

July 12, 2016 at 10:52 am (labour party, posted by JD, unions, Unite the union)

Speech delivered by Len McCluskey to Unite Policy Conference 11/07/2016

This is the third time I have had the honour of addressing a Unite policy conference as your general secretary.

And it must be around the twentieth time I have attended the conference of my union in one capacity or another.

I can never recall in all those years the supreme policy-making body of our union convening in such turbulent times, and with such a weight of responsibility upon its shoulders.

Our country is riven after the EU referendum. Our movement is divided – bitterly and unnecessarily. Jobs are in jeopardy, and long-established rights could be under threat. Millions of working people are looking for urgent answers to the crisis engulfing us. Our members and many besides are looking for a way forward.

It is out of no sense of misplaced vanity colleagues that I say that the judgement and the actions of Unite, the greatest and largest trade union across Britain and Ireland, will be decisive. There is no other organisation in our movement – and no other conference beyond this one – that has the capacity to give the lead the situation demands.

In part that is because of the breadth of our organisation across our economy and our counties, from the car factories and steel plants now under a shadow, our oil and gas industry being ravaged, to the threatened public service and finance sectors and much more besides.

But it is also in part because we are a strong, stable working-class organisation firm in its principles and practical in how we apply them. Those values are more vital than they have ever been. They are the star we have to guide us through this storm.

Of course, there will be different views here in this hall regarding the European Union referendum, and about the roots and the solution of the crisis in the Labour Party.

That is natural and normal. We are a diverse and democratic organisation. And I know that this conference will debate these issues in a disciplined and respectful way, without hysteria.
Following our procedures and abiding by the outcomes. An example that other parts of our movement would do well to follow.

So, sisters and brothers, I can’t deliver the speech that I would have made had we gathered just three weeks ago. I know you will forgive me if I don’t touch on every aspect of our union’s life, as I would normally do, under these circumstances.

Read the rest of this entry »

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McCluskey on the EU: “my final appeal is on the basis of hope”

June 22, 2016 at 11:26 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, rights, solidarity, Tory scum, UKIP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Speech delivered 20th June (NB: not the same as his piece in yesterday’s Guardian)

Colleagues,
May I start by expressing Unite’s shock at the death of Jo Cox and our deepest sympathy to her family.
We can only hope that the outpouring of grief from across the nation will help Jo’s husband, Brendan and his family in these unbearable times.

Her death places in context what is really important in our lives.
She was, of course, a passionate advocate for the Remain campaign and would surely want political debate to continue.

Brothers and Sisters,
As this referendum campaign draws towards a close, I think everyone can agree on two things.

First, it matters. As we come up close to the moment of decision, this feels like one of the most important votes any of us will cast in our lives.

And second, this is close. The elite complacency of the start of the campaign, that this was just a quick canter to the winning post for REMAIN, has disappeared.

This could go either way.

For those two reasons, I wanted to speak out directly, both to and on behalf of the members of Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, also as someone who can legitimately claim to know the hopes and fears of the working-class communities across the country, the sort of community I grew up in and have kept my roots in.

There is no need for a spoiler alert – Unite is fighting all the way for a Remain vote, and for Britain and British workers to build their future in unity with the rest of Europe.

But I have not come here to lecture or to patronise those working people who take a different view. Who can be surprised that in so many industrial areas, voting for the status quo is not exactly a popular option?

I am just asking all those people, including many Unite members, to reflect on their concerns, and whether they would be best addressed by staying in Europe, or by a Brexit.

And I want to flag up what I believe will happen to working people on the morrow of a vote to leave.

Let me turn first to the issue of IMMIGRATION:

Some pundits and commentators, like explorers returning from a visit to the deep unknown, are stunned to find that this has become an issue.

I for one am not in the least surprised. I understand those concerns. They are NOT, for the greatest part, anything to do with racism or xenophobia.

They are to do with the systematic attempt by our greedy elite to hold down wages and cut the costs of social provision for working people.

Let us be clear – what has been done in the last ten years is a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market. The result has been huge downward pressure on living standards.

What happens when two hundred workers are competing for jobs where previously only ten did? Wages are frozen or cut.

What happens when workers can move from a country where a job pays £5 an hour to one where the same job pays £20? The answer is that many do so move, and the same job then ends up paying just £12 an hour.

That is why trade unions have never been in favour of a so-called free labour market. Control of the labour supply in an industry or across society has always been the core of our mission, to ensure that workers get their fair share of the wealth they create.

But let me be clear about something else. Pulling up the drawbridge against the rest of Europe is the wrong answer. Read the rest of this entry »

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