Class warfare needed to shake lazy neoliberalism

Neoliberalism has run its course, Paul Keating has spoken.

Sally McManus, the new Secretary of the ACTU announced the demise of neoliberalism as a useful economic force in her speech to the National Press Club National Press Club, as well as defending her comments that anti-strike laws were unjust and could be disobeyed, and setting out the union peak body’s case for a $45-a-week increase in the minimum wage.

McManus said that neoliberalism and trickle-down economics had caused inequality to reach a 70-year high in Australia and that “working people and ordinary Australians have been the victims”.

    “The Keating years created vast wealth for Australia, but has not been shared, and too much has ended up in offshore bank accounts or in CEO’s back pockets.

    “Working people are now missing out and this is making them angry.”

Paul Keating agrees with her:

    “Liberal economics had [in the past] dramatically increased wealth around the world, as it had in Australia – for instance a 50 per cent increase in real wages and a huge lift in personal wealth,” Mr Keating said.

    “But since 2008, liberal economics has gone nowhere and to the extent that Sally McManus is saying this, she is right.”

    “We have a comatose world economy held together by debt and central bank money,” Mr Keating added.

    “Liberal economics has run into a dead end and has had no answer to the contemporary malaise.”

Greg Jericho says:

    rather than provoke cries of communism and class warfare, for anyone who has been paying attention over the past decade, the correct response to McManus and Keating’s assertions should be “well, duh”.

It’s the bleeding obvious, he says, and if Keating said anything else you would question his intelligence. And calling neoliberalism out is not in itself going to do anything to improve the economy.

Jericho, in a lively, perceptive and informative piece, makes a number of important points.

He says ‘neoliberalism’ is “a bit of a dopey term, that really just means ‘small government-pro-market’ policies” which he says works fine unless you ignore the ways it doesn’t. Problems are not confined to the post-GFC years. For example:

    In climate change, we have the biggest market failure in the history of economics.

    For pro-free marketers climate change is a nasty bur in their shoe. If you accept climate change could lead to rising sea levels, coastal inundation, dislocation of large masses of people, increased intensity of tropical storms and droughts, and grave risks to food and water supply, then you have to accept the market failed to account for such impacts and not only allowed, but ensured they would happen.

    Little wonder many free marketeer thinktanks and political parties have instead embraced lunatic theories about climate change being a conspiracy involving the UN, NASA, every university in the world, China, all major meteorological bodies, the World Bank and the makers of tin foil hats.

    Delusion is preferable to admitting fault.

The economy is basically flatlining, as it has been in the world’s major economies, while interest rates, wages and industrial disputes are at all-time lows.

Jericho does not make any suggestions as to what we might do. He does point out that when unions were first formed they were illegal.

Tristan Ewins says that a bit of class struggle is exactly what we need and the bland laziness of neoliberal politics is aiding Australia’s slide into greater authoritarianism.

    The monopoly mass media response to McManus was outrageous but predictable. Melbourne 3AW radio presenter Neil Mitchell responded by branding her statements “class warfare”.

    We hear these words whenever anyone raises issues of distributive justice for the exploited and disadvantaged. For instance, we heard cries of “class warfare” amidst the debate on superannuation tax concessions for millionaires. But, interestingly enough, Mitchell had nothing of the sort to say in response to moves to undercut penalty rates for some of the country’s most disadvantaged workers. The double standards are striking, marking Mitchell, Andrew Bolt and other right-inclined journalists as guardians of the dominant ideology and of the interests of capital as against labour.

He says inequality must be addressed, pointing out that if the minimum wage was raised by $45 per week it would still be well short of the OECD benchmark of 60% of average wages. $45 is not much more than $1 per hour.

Ewins gives some credit to Labor for an interest in inequality and pursuing some socially beneficial policies. But in the end they come up short:

    The ideological underpinnings of the Left are falling away and, in its place, we are seeing a more bland liberalism and Third Way ideology develop.

He says:

    The thing about “ideology” as such (in the Marxist sense) is that the dominant practices and institutions of any given time are made to seem “natural”, “eternal” or “inevitable”. Weighted suffrage (where voting rights depended on class and gender) was one such practice. And free, equal and universal suffrage – including women’s suffrage – was once seen as a truly revolutionary (and hence an “outrageous” and “unthinkable”) proposition. Ending child labour, implementing the eight-hour day and the 40 hour week, and the right of free association to form trade unions and social democratic parties were all, in their time, seen as “unthinkable” and “beyond the fringes of respectable opinion”.

He contrasts Labor’s acceptance of notions of “intrinsic working class conservatism” with old Marxist notions of its “intrinsic radicalism”.

So for him it’s “Go Sally!”

Jericho rightly says that Keating and Hawke may have been good for their time, but the 1980s are past and will not return. Marc Saxer has strategies for a modern world:

    1. Save old jobs by slowing down digital automation.

    2. Create new employment in the heartland of the digital economy.

    3. Boost the human economy.

You can follow him there, and maybe what he suggests has merit. We need to do something.

George Monbiot, in looking at the harm wrought by neoliberalism on the mental health of children, says:

    This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.

As well as small government strong individualism is at the guts of the problem. Have a look at Descartes was wrong: ‘a person is a person through other persons’:

    According to Ubuntu philosophy, which has its origins in ancient Africa, a newborn baby is not a person. People are born without ‘ena’, or selfhood, and instead must acquire it through interactions and experiences over time. So the ‘self’/‘other’ distinction that’s axiomatic in Western philosophy is much blurrier in Ubuntu thought. As the Kenyan-born philosopher John Mbiti put it in African Religions and Philosophy (1975): ‘I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.’

We have a strongly individualistic notion of personality, strengthening with the Renaissance and solidified by Descartes to the point where it seems the natural order of things.

It is possible, I think highly likely, that for 98% of our existence as a species a concept of a more social being prevailed.

I first became aware of the full impact of the nether side of excess individualism in reading Erich Fromm’s Fear of Freedom, published in North America as Escape from Freedom as a student in the 1960s. It’s based on his PhD done in Germany in the 1930s.

Strong individualism suits capitalism, as the unit of labour and the target of consumption. The social environment is not conducive to a renewal of class struggle, but the contention of Tristan Ewins is that the world needs more like Sally McManus who will give it a shot.

57 thoughts on “Class warfare needed to shake lazy neoliberalism”

  1. Ok, I’ve been waiting for other to discuss this issue, and it’s the biggest social/economic issue in front of us and thank you Brian for trying to prompt it, because I’m interested in others perspectives first so I waited.
    ( A little disappointed that no balancing view, not one, was put in the OP but not surprised. )

    My question on Keatings,

    “But since 2008, liberal economics has gone nowhere and to the extent that Sally McManus is saying this, she is right.”

    is if more regulations and Laws to combat neoliberalism , that we can ignore if we feel they’re unfair, do anything at all ?

  2. Grr.
    Not ” if ” rather ” how can ”
    How can more regulations and Laws to combat neoliberalism , that we can ignore if we feel they’re unfair, do anything at all ?

  3. How can more regulations and Laws to combat neoliberalism , that we can ignore if we feel they’re unfair, do anything at all ?

    Very true. So we’d better not make any regulations or laws aimed at combatting neoliberalism.
    Maybe we could bring about its demise if we demanded policies based on evidence instead of the fairy story that markets are the answer to everything.

  4. So we’d better not make any regulations or laws aimed at combatting neoliberalism.

    Of course not.

    Maybe we could bring about its demise if we demanded policies based on evidence instead of the fairy story that markets are the answer to everything.

    You want to give up your freedom to choose what to buy ?
    That’s seems pretty silly to me.

  5. Having someone force you what to buy or not buy sounds a lot like authoritarian rule to me

  6. So, Jumpy, you certainly prefer the alternative to regulation to control neoliberalism which is less to zero regulation to control labour. And good on you for that. We need to dump all that destructive legislation limiting peoples right to collectively bargain for the value of their labour. Go Jumpy.

  7. BilB
    Companies collectively bargaining is illegal right ?

    Anyway, I’m for bed, just thought I’d kick this thread in to gear.
    Enough of being lead down different avenues .
    ” How can One advocate more Laws and ignoring Laws at the same time ? “

  8. Maybe we could bring about its demise if we demanded policies based on evidence instead of the fairy story that markets are the answer to everything.

    Note that I did not suggest we should ban markets, merely that we should employ them only when there is evidence that they will work. (Greg Jericho is very good at pointing out which policies are well founded.)
    However Jumpy’s spray

    You want to give up your freedom to choose what to buy ?
    That’s seems pretty silly to me.
    Having someone force you what to buy or not buy sounds a lot like authoritarian rule to me

    indicates that he believes I have called for markets to be outlawed.
    How do we solve a problem like Jumpy?

  9. How can One advocate more Laws and ignoring Laws at the same time ?

    I must have missed Sally McManus advocating for more laws. Does anybody have a link? I’d ask Jumpy, but he rarely supports his assertions with evidence.
    The OP says only that she defended “her comments that anti-strike laws were unjust and could be disobeyed”.

  10. “Companies collectively bargaining is illegal right ?” Really? that does not stop them from doing it. Did the petrol price just jump up from $1.05 to $1.37 at every servo in NSW wales yesterday, regardless of brand? I think it did. That is collective action. A collective rip off! Can labour do the same thing? No. People have to pay the price. If workers arrive and say “I’m charging 25% more today”, will their employer par 25% more? No!

    It is not a level working field.

    The next Labour government should abolish those anti union, anti collective bargaining laws. Let’s have some good old fashioned strikes.

  11. Bilb
    I deplore any body that corrupts the free market, be that is fuel stations that collude to raise costs or unions. I doubt a conspiracy within the fuel retailers with so many independents involved and the ACCC has found this. More likely the majors have done their homework in assessing customers cost apathy tolerance.
    I think if they were to collude and strike for a week, we’d be in a real mess.

    That to one side, do McManus and Keating have preference in who they decide can disregard laws ? I think they do. And do they want more laws for the remainder ? I think they do.
    Because they said so ( links in the OP ).

    That is not moral, fair or just.

  12. Economics is not always a “zero sum game”.
    Could be some ‘dichotomous thinking’* here.

    The economy does not consist entirely of the yin/yang

    There are retired pensioners, retired superannuants, schoolkids, pre-school kids, P/T workers happy to work P/T, volunteers, consultants, self-employed, tertiary students, contractors, fully employed (but unpaid) homemakers, priests & nuns, eBay fiddlers, ditto etsy, hobbyists including home gardeners and beekeepers, farmers, pie-in-the-sky dreamers, public servants, P/T workers keen to be F/T, unskilled “executives”, police and emergency service persons, armed forces people, [politicians], scam artists, cash-in-hand blighters, etc.

    Many of these categories have overlaps.

    “Wage slaves” versus “cigar-chomping bosses” is out of date now; was it ever accurate?

    * I like a good dichotomy when it applies. But overriding that is the principle:

    eschew obfuscation!!

  13. And do they want more laws for the remainder ? I think they do.
    Because they said so ( links in the OP ).

    Nowhere in the link to the story of Mcmanus’s address is there any mention of her advocating for more laws (as opposed to welcoming Shorten’s commitment to change bad laws).
    The only new laws mentioned in the article are those introduced or proposed by the Turnbull Government. Ms McManus is not a member of that government.

  14. I haven’t been able to get into this conversation, because i don’t understand what’s bothering Jumpy.

    Ambigulous said:

    Economics is not always a “zero sum game”.

    It used to be. Yuval Harari brought home to me:

    Harari points out that prior to the modern era there was negligible growth in per capita production. If you wanted more, you took it at someone else’s expense.

    In mediaeval times this mostly meant plunder, or extorting more from the peasants. In recent years growth goes pretty much to the one per cent, which is what is bugging Sally McManus.

    While we are here I’ll give you my favourite example of rational regulation.

    The competition authorities in the EU found that clothing manufacturers could not compete on an equal basis in making men’s pyjamas, because every country had a different custom in the size and positioning of the fly. So they brought in a regulation to make the size and positioning of the fly uniform throughout Europe.

    I guess they are now mostly wearing PJs made in Bangaladesh or somewhere, but the capitalists there can now service the whole continent without changing their settings.

  15. A worthy topic.

    An excellent example of the zero sum game is the “Small Government” delusion where horribly inefficient, convoluted and unintentionally cruel corporate bureaucracy replaces horribly inefficient, convoluted and unintentionally cruel government bureaucracy.

    There are plenty of wordy attempts to refute this sort of statement but no credible arguments against it.

    “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

    As for the alleged benefits of Privatization: I see no real benefits at all for the citizenry as a whole. On the contrary, I see only the plunder of public assets for the benefit of a very few – mostly off-shore and with the table-scraps of all their plunder tossed to their Australian collaborators.

    It is almost axiomatic that where Privatization does bring cheaper prices, it is at the price of inferior quality
    (the most worrying being maintenance and safety).

    Further, Privatization looks too much like the Enclosures racket of two hundred years ago – with touches of the Tulip Craze and the planning of the Defence of Singapore 1938~1942 thrown in for good measure.

    What some condemn as Class Warfare is nothing but public awareness and outrage at colossal fraud. There is nothing wrong with healthy scepticism and the defence of our own standard of living.

  16. Yes, Brian. It used to be a zero-sum game. For millenia probably.

    I vaguely recall an economist (Keynes? Galbraith?) that politicians commonly try to apply economic policies that were might have been effective several decades earlier.

    So policies have a “lag”. Not helpful.
    There are enough inherent “lags” in a financial, economic system without misapplied levers.

    Now that policy makers (apparently) have more detailed current data and longer series of historic trends/data to work with, will men like me be fair in expecting better policy results?

  17. I have seen the damage caused by abuse of union power in the Pilbara during the eighties. What I see now is the damage being done to workers because of all the laws that now restrict union power make it easy for employers to abuse their workers.
    We need:
    Much harsher penalties for employers that rob their workers.
    Workers having the power to go on strike after reasonable attempts have been made to resolve issues, employers having the option to talk to workers directly on the issue and a secret ballot taken after people have time to think.
    A system that provides protection for individual workers that does not depend on unions.

  18. That’s a good set of proposals, John.

    There is also a view that “abuse of union power” went on for decades in the Latrobe Valley, where power workers are now generally very well-paid, and “Uncle Sec” (State Electricity Commissions) was seen as a cornucopia. It wasn’t pilfering, it was just Uncle Sec being benevolent to his beloved employees.

  19. Employees rip off employers too.
    Bogus sickies being a common occurrence which is fraud.

    I’m fortunate that I’ve been an employee most of my working life and an employer later in life, I have perspective from both.

  20. Well that is your confession, Jumpy, and fortunately you are not every one. I don’t believe that I have ever taken a sickie in the years I spent as an employee. But I have done one other thing that most people will not have, and that is obtain a union exemption certificate when working once for a closed union shop business. Not that I object to unions, I don’t, it was that this union had an overly political “Boss” whose opinions I could not subscribe to, especially when he publicly expressed them “on behalf of his members”.

  21. Experience in the US (sorry, anecdotal since I can’t remember where I saw it) has been that unionised enterprises tend to be more profitable and their employees more productive (as well as better paid) than their non-unionised competitors.
    To stave off the almost inevitable dichotimised response, please note I am not saying all unionised businesses benefit in this way.

  22. John D, not disagreeing with your analysis which I think is spot on, just adding to the conversation:
    I had a friend who was a union organiser in the Pilbara during the late sixties (very early seventies?). He told me he spent a lot of time trying to convince his members to not go out on strike.
    It happened when the company found it could not meet a deadline and tried to stir up trouble in order to blame the delay on union action, which I guess would avoid the company being penalised. I doubt it was a regular occurrence, but he was usually a truthful man.

  23. I was a long-time member of a union which went in to bat for its members, but whose leadership ranks included political aspirants belonging to the Socialist Left (SL) of the Victorian ALP. In the 90s the SL split, some faction members forming a new grouplet known as “Pledge”.

    A group of unions “pledged” to oppose privatisation of State assets, which was (ALP) State Govt policy.

    All of this was going on in a political realm far removed from our workplaces…. and only in far retrospect now, do I wonder how much of my union subs were used in factional battles.

    Very few members of the union were ALP members, but membership numbers determined the weight “our” delegates carried to Party Conferences.

    Needless to say, members were never consulted on the policies the “leadership” went in to battle for, in internal ALP disputes.

    I became aware only when our glorious “leader”‘s name appeared on a Senate ballot paper. I voted below the line. He was not elected.

    And yet, and yet, .. unions responsive to their members’ needs can do valuable work indeed.

    PS: the funniest article I saw in the union magazine was written by a comrade in NZ, complaining that the NZ Govt was not following the policies of the NZ Communist Party. To my way of thinking, that was unsurprising, as the NZ Govt at that time was Nationals (conservative).

  24. I am Spartacus!

    Oh, sorry.

    BilB, I too didn’t ever take a bogus sickie in over thirty years as an employee.

    OTOH, some did.

  25. I agree with you, Ambi. Unions do very valuable work. When I employed people in NZ (ChCh) I asked the union to check my employment policy. Everyone was happy that way, no arguments, , no complaints, no fights.

  26. What a highly non-dichotomous way of conducting yourself, BilB. Shouldn’t you have left the struggling workers penniless, overworked, mistrusted, scorned and exhausted?

    Shame on you, traitor to the Boss Class!!

  27. sung by snivelling shop steward:

    The working class
    Can kiss my a**e
    I’ve got the foreman’s
    Job at last!

    Melody: “The Red Flag” [trad.]

  28. Its even worse than you think, Ambi. My work policy was structurally above award pay for a 4 day 36 hour week. I payed 40 hours pay for 36 hours work, but it was highly flexible working hours. My people could adjust their day off to suit themselves ie 4 day weekend every second week for instance. I had one young guy doing a tech degree but no other employer would give him the 2 half days for his main subjects. He was thrilled with our policy. Two other women used the flexibility to fit in with their kids school schedules. The benefit to us was that we paid for no public holidays and overtime was payed on accumulated hours rather than determined by specific days. If someone wanted to make their time on Sunday, that was their choice and pay was the regular rate. However if I needed someone to work outside their regular programme we paid a penalty for that time. All other entitlements were as normal (holiday pay, sick leave, long service, etc.).

    That was why I got the union to sign off on it. They ran the numbers and determined that no one was disadvantaged, rather it was a better environment than most, and as long as the staff were happy to work by our system all was good.

  29. When I worked in the public service we had I think 13 different work categories and 7 or 8 different unions, but don’t recall any trouble from anyone.

    My wife was a teacher for most of her life, and found that the union was the most reliable source on Departmental policy, as they had access to the top brass and a better communication system. If you asked the local principal or the people in regional office, often they didn’t know, sometimes they were wrong and sometimes someone in the communication chain had put their own twist on things. It paid to know where you really stood if the shit hit the fan.

    Other than that, back in the 1970s there was a lot of talk about ‘industrial democracy’. I believe in the EU it is mandatory to have worker representation at the highest level in companies, and that the Brits had trouble in complying when they joined. I agree with it in principle.

  30. Unions are generally very professional in performing their background legal and negotiation functions. The problems arise at the shop floor representation level.

    Back in circa 1973 I worked for a year at Garden Island Dockyard. That is where I saw some of the worst of the union habits. There was a poor European guy who they had labelled as scab, there were the “show of hands” voting complete with scanning eyes looking for dissenters, and of course the worst kind of lazy over opinionated shop floor reps. I wound up as trade assistant to one such ahole for several months during the Melbourne’s last (I think) refit. This guy got his nose out of joint about something so he decided to do nothing for six weeks.

    Every day he lodged himself on a drum in the middle of the boiler room floor and just sat there. I was his assistant so I couldn’t do anything so got to explore the ship very thoroughly, for six whole weeks. During one of my excursions I found one of the galleys and got talking to a navy cook. He told me the story (maybe a salty tale) of an arrogant and abusive officer who turned up at the officer’s mess galley late one night after everything was cleaned and stowed away and demanded to be served a tender steak. So they dug through the rubbish and found a steak some one hadn’t eaten, they peed on it, kicked it around the galley for a while, spat on it then washed it off, seared it off on a super hot grill and served it up. He thought it was delicious. Moral of that story?….always be nice to the cook.

    No one appreciates abusive irrationality.

  31. I could well be mistaken (it wouldn’t be the first time) but I gathered from BilB’s comments here that he owns a business now.

  32. Zoot, indeed I do. I’ve been self employed, with only one small break when I moved the family from NZ to Oz in 1997, for 30 years. No not rich, but doing OK. When I was employing in NZ I was making components for appliances (Simpson and Moffat) and doing about $2000 of product a day for a time. But my main field is Product Design.

  33. The question was to BilB.

    Sorry sir.
    Didn’t realise I wasn’t permitted to comment, sir.
    Won’t happen again, sir.

  34. I see you’ve had a right ticking off, zoot.
    Most gratifying to see you respond with a direct apology.

    No peeing on steaks here!!
    Thoroughly polite and shipshape at all times.

    cabin boy Ambi

  35. “public awareness and outrage at colossal fraud”

    Thanks to the bloke who kicked this thread into gear.

    So our experiences show that well-connected, hard working unions can be very helpful to individual members; that a non-Union agreement in one firm can do wonders; that some workers can be stroppy or lazy; that privatisation doesn’t necessarily improve an enterprise; that union action can be capricious and bloody-minded; that management might try to provoke a strike; that unions are needed for collective bargaining.

    Does the Press cover this range? Do Parliaments? What about the TURC, the “old TURC”?

    We get, I submit:
    personal stories about loss of penalty rates
    lurid stories of massive fraud at highest levels of two or three unions
    debates on penalty rates killing small businesses
    regular stories on the minimum wage hearings
    detailed dissection of law/Union careers of J Gillard, W Shorten
    hot shot innovation stories presented as little miracles

    while the vast mass of regular, everyday working lives go unremarked, but nonetheless lived……

    the rich get richer and the poor get peed upon

    cabin boy
    up at 3am to get the Captain his warmed pyjamas prepared

  36. You are right, Ambigulous, the Australian news media are quite pathetic. Their main focus is self aggrandisement while treating news as “reality” entertainment. To get a better experience you might try the French news at 8.30 on SBS, just not when there are elections on. Their journalists when they cover industry talk to the people actually doing the work, not the owner of the business with workers faintly in the distance, and the journalists don’t hog the frame putting forward their uninformed opinion for what is going on. They are very good at showing the talents and skill of the real people in the industries that they cover, and France is full of interesting occupations. I watched on expose a while back on the industry of making high quality hand bags, they did it so well I really wanted to get some quality leather, a marble block, some hand tools and give it a try.

    Some years ago I had a moulding tool made by a foundry in Melbourne. I rang the owner to see how my job was getting on and he was fuming because he just had a school group do a factory visit and he heard the teacher of this group tell his students that “if they did not study hard this is how they would end up”. He was furious and sent the teacher with his group packing. Foundry work is one of the most ancient of industries, requiring a huge body of knowledge and experience, and is just so awesome in how metal poured into a cavity in sand can produce so many of the fantastic shapes that framed our cultured history.

    The high school teacher demonstrated how poorly considered skills are in our Australia today, and the media are as much responsible for that as any “professional” group. Is it because skills came here as convicts, and the indigenous skills were something to be exterminated? Is this appalling lack of respect for real industry a carry on from the Australian jailer mentality of elites and government?

  37. Ambigulous nails the media aspect.
    Did any ( so called ) journalist ask McManus ” what Laws have you broken due to their unjustness ” ?
    It’s the obvious question given her statement.

  38. Did any ( so called ) journalist ask McManus ”What laws are you advocating the government introduce so that you can refuse to obey them” ?
    It’s an obvious question given Jumpy’s statements.

  39. And when she answered “none, …. yet!”, Jumpy, what does your “obvious” question achieve from the obvious answer?

  40. So McManus answers yes, therefore charges and investigation or no therefore the laws are all fair to her.
    Journalists ( so called ) are either biased or incompetent, I’ll bet on the former.

  41. ”What laws are you advocating the government introduce so that you can refuse to obey them” ?

    Should have been asked. Well done zoot.

  42. Zoot: Some companies were more likely to fight issues when the stockpiles were full and the market weak. However, when we could sell everything we produced a strike would cost about one million a day at a time when Newman’s production was about 26 mtpa. In the short term there a million reasons why it was smart to give in however, over the longer term it was death by a thousand cuts with a whole lot of stupid agreements that reduced productivity and locked the workers into boring jobs as a result of demarcations.
    Things started changing with the big Robe river strike. Robe rejected all the agreements that had clogged up the system over the years and insisted the matter be resolved in the real courts instead of the industrial court.
    The unions really lost it when the Hammersley workers got so pissed off with the autocratic behaviour of their elected union officials and went back to work in defiance of the unions. Hammersley had the sense to offer the rebels the chance to be on the non-unionized staff and the unions were gone.
    Interesting times.

  43. Thanks John,
    Interesting to hear the inside story.

    Did journalists/Press get it more or less accurately?

  44. Just a clarification of my intention in the article re: the nature of the working class ; My argument was basically that ‘essentialist narratives’ on the role of the working class were misplaced. That the working class is neither essentially conservative nor essentially revolutionary.

    I’ll try and explain. For a long time capitalism antagonised workers such as to spur the rise of social democratic (including Marxist) movements. These were a very significant force in the 19th and 20th centuries. However throughout the early to mid 20th Century many workers embraced Imperialism or even Fascism. The German Trade Unions in World War I overwhelmingly broke from the Marxist intellectual leaders of the SPD (social democrats) , supporting war on the basis of ‘shared interests’ and the promise of industrial concessions. The war decimated German Social Democracy ; but not before opposition was neutralised. The right-wing tendencies in Germany Social Democracy were also influenced on its relative right by ‘ethno-nationalist’ ideology.

    After World War I, also, nationalist Ideology, national humiliation, a desire to maintain some sense of ‘meaning’ from the relationships and horrors experiences from war-time – fed into the formation of militias such as the Freikorps. (similar tendencies in Italy led to Mussolini’s regime) Narratives to the effect that Germany was ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Communists saw many workers reject the Left ; and in response to Depression and humiliation many working class people turned to a Nazism – which argued it would deliver Germany from its humiliation, and get the economy moving again. The thuggery of the brownshirts made the true nature of the Nazi party apparent. But German Conservatives thought they could control Hitler. They were mistaken. And the Left had not anticipated the rise of Fascism ; It had not factored into Marx’s schema ; except perhaps with his notion of relative State autonomy in ‘the Eighteenth Brumaire…’ What was important was that it was not only lumpenproletarians and petty bourgeois who turned to Hitler ; but also many working class people. This upset Marxist notions of the pre-given destiny of the working class.

    On the other hand in Sweden the Social Democrats borrowed nationalist rhetoric ; and wedded it to liberal and social democratic (egalitarian and solidaristic) notions. But Swedish nationalism was not based on militarism, expansionism or the like. Robbing the radical right of the platform of ‘national identity and community’ ; the Social Democrats also co-opted the farmers and petty bourgeois at the crucial moment ; and ended up presiding in Sweden for decades on end.

    Today the means of social control, disinformation and propaganda have been turned into a virtual science, also. Many working class people go against their own objective economic interests. This happened earlier in the 19th and 20th centuries ; but arguably it has never been so pronounced. Again underlying to point that we cannot take the position of the working class for granted on the Left.

    The point here is that while capitalism creates tendencies this way or that way – the final outcome depends on what might be called ‘collective will formation’ as well as political strategy and tactics.

    Also in response to Jumpy’s argument that we must leave things to ‘the market’ in order to preserve ‘choice’… Well that depends on which areas of the economy we’re talking about. Some sectors involve constant innovation and responsiveness to consumer demand. (eg: information and communications technology consumables) But other areas (eg: communications and transport infrastructure) are properly natural public monopolies. And some areas (eg: private health insurance) see capitalists fleece consumers compared with socialised medicine. If the right areas of the economy are socialised – including natural public monopolies in some non-negotiable necessities – that can actually free resources for consumption in other markets. In some areas of the economy ‘collective consumption via tax’ gives workers a much better deal. While on paper after tax income falls – in practice such ‘collective consumption’ actually frees resources for consumption elsewhere.

  45. Tristan, thanks for a fleshed out explanation, demonstrating that simplistic narratives don’t reflect reality, which is quite complex.

    It shows, I think, that we have to find our own way forward within our own cultural/social/political circumstances, although broader influences are a factor.

  46. Thanks Tristan.

    Perhaps the key to this is that Marx’s schema was very much of his time; a time as you point out, of starvation, chaotic rapid industrialisation, lack of trade union action, lack of “industrial laws”.

    One might even resort to French and call it laissez-faire capitalism.

    So now, what is it, 130 years later?
    169 years since the rumblings in Europe of 1848?
    100 years since the Bolshevik coup in St Petersburg?
    …. is it now time to figure out which of Marx’s “iron laws” are actually eternal and essential to capitalism???

    As you might guess, I think it is.
    So much has changed.

    You point out that some industries are cauldrons of innovation – and, I would contend – producing real improvements in workers’ lives, e.g. in workplace safety, in lowering the real costs of some products and services most of us use every week.

    But finance capital is eager and can pull its tricks in milliseconds now.

    And the poor are still with us.

  47. – including natural public monopolies in some non-negotiable necessities –

    This I’ll have to investigate.
    What is naturally public owned, why a monopoly in those spaces is best and who dictates what is a necessity.
    Plenty to ponder…

  48. Hi Ambiguous

    re: Lenin and ‘the coup’ as you call it – well its a matter of definition ; some view revolution as involving the forcing of a new constitution ; By that reckoning the 1917 Revolutions were revolutions… But if you DID want to label October 1917 a coup – on what criteria would you do that? And as a consequence how many other revolutions would you have to label ‘coups’. None of this means I’m a Leninist. Were I around I would have been in the Centre of the Marxist movement. But I’m trying to be intellectually honest. And I think the Bolsheviks should be assessed fairly – for their virtues as well as their vices.

    Re “what remains” from Marxism ; Well – there’s Surplus value and exploitation ; there’s the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (a tendency not an absolute) ; there’s the Tendency towards monopoly ; There’s the pressures on the middle classes – though they tend to arise elsewhere and so have survived over a century since Marx thought they were doomed ; There’s class struggle ; There’s alienation ; There’s the Marxist notion of Ideology – though ‘True Consciousness’ is questionable – as people have genuinely different values systems , and maybe there is no ‘objective direction of history’ that can be counted upon ; I’m sure there’s much more too which I’m not thinking of just right now – In the Marxist TRADITION – everything from Centrism to Leninism and Trotskyism , to the New Left and the various Critical Theorists ; to the Eurocommunists and today’s Post-Marxists – There is so much diversity and content… It would be a mistake to write it all of because Marxism is out of Fashion.

  49. The working class and “the left” are separate things. To make matters more difficult both the working class and the left are evolving with the working class becoming more educated and less organized and the left becoming more green and less likely to see the nationalization of industry as being important.
    In Australia it was the Labor party that supported the white Aus policy because cheap Asian labour was seen as a threat to the conditions of working Australians. Concern re 457 visas is a return to this concern.

  50. Hi Tristan

    I’ll have to give all that you wrote, some further thought.
    Thanks for your clarity and detail.


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